You may think the Earth is a big place. It's holding six and a half billion humans as well as millions of other species. Yet on the grand scale of things, it's tiny. Overpopulation is a big problem now, and it's only going to get worse. Billions of people do not have access to adequate water and food supplies. You could try to evenly distribute all the resources to satisfy everyone, but that doesn't work. If it did, we'd all be Communists. Only very rarely does a person willingly give up all but what is necessary to help others. Human Nature dictates for us to hoard, not give.
And if we somehow manage to magically nourish everyone, we're living on a virtual time bomb. Practically every day there's a report of another terrorism threat or global warming threat. 99.99% of the time, it won't happen, but there's still that sliver of a chance. Some day, maybe soon, but hopefully in the distant future, something's going to happen. China and the US fall out and start a nuclear war, for example. It's not likely, but there's a chance nevertheless. Or the melting of the polar ice caps may cause the Gulf Stream to lock down, causing drastic climate change, as well as the raise in sea level. In either situation, humanity will survive, but it will take heavy casualties. We would lose a lot of our population and a lot of our living space, be it to water or nuclear radiation.
This may seem like a grim outlook of the future, but thankfully 99.99% odds are very good indeed. We do have plenty of time. I'm not a revalationist who predicts the end on December 21, 2012. But at various points, humanity must make decisions, and we are approaching a fork in the road. Either we stay at home, dreaming and scheming and planning, or we head "out there," towards the stars. If we stay on Earth, we reach a dead end. The planet can only take so much, and we're straining it already. It is known fact that many of the inventions that we take for granted were developed for the Space Race forty years ago. By staying, we give up an opportunity to advance the human race. We would decide to refuse the progress of science.
By going, we would face problems as well. However, it will all fare out for the better in the long run. The main reason why we haven't progressed as far as we should have over the last several years is because of safety. We're all worried about losing lives due to error or fault. But all we're doing is delaying the inevitable. Accidents happen. We all make mistakes. And if we slow down to prevent them, we're also slowing down progress at the same rate. Think of the voyages of exploration in the late 15th century. Explorers were willing to go into unmarked waters to face goodness knows what. If they had the same sense of paranoia as we do today, we wouldn't have discovered America for another hundred years, at least. Instead, they went ahead, knowing that there was a large chance of them never returning alive.
Additionally, there's the factor of cost. Right now it requires deep pockets to fund a mission to space. But that's the same for all new things. The first computers cost thousands for comparatively little processing power. As time goes by, and new innovations are made, the price goes way down. If you just make it through the stage of expensiveness, then the product will become more and more economical, and the same applies to space flight. Putting off the (currently) expensive launches will only delay the time when it will become much more feasible monetarily.
It's inevitable. We need to get out of this planet. It's not big enough for the six-and-a-half billion of us. We need to spread out before it's too late. Sure we're safe for now, but we need to prepare for the future. Planetary exploration takes a long time, and the sooner we start, the better off we'll be. Who knows how much time we have left? All it takes is a single large meteor and we're done for. Extinct. Never to return. We live on a speck of dust in the giant cosmic ocean of space. In 1990, Voyager 1 turned its cameras around from four billion miles away, outside the orbit of Pluto, and took a picture of the inner solar system. In it, the Earth takes up only one-sixth of a pixel. As Carl Sagan wrote about it,
"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there . on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light."
Do we want to live out our existence on a pale blue dot? Should the human race, which can achieve so much, be forced to remain on a single mote of dust? I feel that if we put our mind to it, we can leave this small, insignificant patch of matter and head out for grander things. Forty years ago, we make it to the moon on a spaceship with the processing power of a graphing calculator. If they can do it on only that, we can easily do it with our Pentiums. All it takes is a push in the right direction. During the Cold War, President Kennedy declared that the US would put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. And we succeeded on that. Three years ago, President Bush started a program to get us back to the moon by the end of the next decade - twice as long as the first time. We've been there before. Out technology is more advanced. We have done it once already. So it should not take longer to go back. What we need is a push in the right direction. The moon is just one small step. If we're ever going to be able to permanently settle outside the Earth, we need to go faster. We need to actually realize what lays ahead. It's space or bust, and I certainly don't want to see bust.