by Megan Ray Nichols
Humankind has always had an overwhelming desire to explore.
We had our humble beginnings as a truly nomadic species, spreading across continents in search of the next meal.
Eventually, we learned to settle land and grow our own food. Still, the urge to explore didn’t leave us.
One period in European history beginning in about the fifteenth century has been loosely defined as the age of exploration and discovery. We still celebrate legendary explorers like Christopher Columbus who voyaged across entire uncharted oceans in order to expand the cultural, economic and religious reach of European civilization.
It was during this time that Europeans accidentally stumbled upon the “New World” of the Americas, and slowly any pieces missing from the puzzle of our globe were filled in as we made further advances in mapping the entire Earth.
Nothing Left to Explore?
With virtually every corner of the planet accounted for, it may seem to some that there is no exploring left to do. We have traveled to the North and South Poles, to the depths of jungles and the ocean floor — some of us in the name of science and discovery, some for fortune and glory and some simply “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
That line is from the opening sequence of “Star Trek,” a television and film franchise that has captured imaginations for decades. Why? Because it feeds our deep-rooted appetite for exploration. We want to see new worlds, new creatures and things no one has ever seen.
Space truly is the final frontier. It’s a frontier that we’ve barely scratched the surface of.
Why Explore Space?
Space travel as we know it is pretty primitive. We put a man on the moon, but that was over 50 years ago. Space travel is costly, and many feel as though our economic resources are better spent here on Earth.
Others see things differently, and these are the people making great technological advances that will propel us forward towards exploration.
Private space companies are emerging and innovating rapidly. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has been developing reusable rockets, an idea inspired by Star Trek.
“Imagine watching Star Trek, and if they built a new star ship after every trip? It’s pretty silly,” Musk said in an interview.
Star Trek and the vast array of space-based fiction films and books are not fantasy — rather, they are science fiction. The distinction is that the latter has a tendency to inspire real-world science. Humans dreamed of space travel long before science made it even remotely possible.
There are practical reasons to explore space beyond our emotionally-driven urge to explore. Research accomplished in space has brought us advances in medicine, crop-growing, solar energy, new building materials, new methods of obtaining clean water and quite a lot more.
We must also be future-minded. Our population is exponentially increasing, and the UN has predicted that it will top 11 billion by the end of the century. With barely enough land and a climate in peril, the colonization of space seems necessary.
There may come a day when Star Trek-style alliances between nations occur and we work together to make extensive exploration and even colonization of local or deep space possible. Space tourism has already taken root, and may someday be available to the common family the way that a trip to the beach is today.
There is so much endless possibility. We have only just begun to explore the vastness of space. Let us never stop.
About The Author
Megan Ray Nichols enjoys writing about astronomy and other scientific fields on her blog, Schooled By Science.
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