Should we colonize space? Should humans leave Earth and try to make the Moon, or Mars, or another planet our new home? Is this even something worth considering? This episode of Thinking in English will try to answer some of these questions, and will provide an overview of the debate surrounding space colonization!
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To thrive (v) – to grow, develop, or be successful
His business is thriving in the current economy
Propulsion (n) – a force that pushes something forward
He modified his car to use jet propulsion
To colonize (v) – to send people to live in and govern another country (or place)
Peru was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century
Astronomer (n) – someone who studies astronomy. Astronomy is the scientific study of the universe and the objects that exist in space like the moon, the sun, planets, and stars
He is an astronomer at a prestigious research university
Proponent (n) – a person who speaks publicly in support of a particular idea or plan of action
He is one of the leading proponents of leaving the EU
Catastrophic (adh) – causing sudden and very great harm or destruction
An increase in the use of fossil fuels could have catastrophic results for the planet
To terraform (v) – in books, films or games about an imagined future, to change the environment of a planet so that it is more like Earth and could be a place where humans could live
Can we terraform Mars?
Inhospitable (adj) – not suitable for humans to live in
They had to trek for miles through inhospitable countryside
Space colonization was once an idea exclusive to science fiction novels and films. The idea that humans could survive, and even thrive, away from our planet seemed more like a dream or fantasy than a real possibility. However, according to NASA, in recent years space colonization ‘has rapidly moved several steps closer to becoming a reality thanks to major advances in rocket propulsion and design, astronautics and astrophysics, robotics and medicine.’ With climate change and pollution, extreme weather, increasing natural disasters, and the current worldwide pandemic, the number of people discussing and supporting moving to other planets has been increasing.
This episode of Thinking in English will first give an overview and history of space colonization. Then I will introduce the two different perspectives and some related arguments: some pro- space colonization and some against. It will be up to you to listen to my points, consider both sides of the argument, and then try to come to your own conclusion! You need to think in English! So, should we colonize space?
Space colonization, space settlement, or extra-terrestrial colonization is the term used to describe some members of our species leaving Earth to move to another planet or moon. This could be either to live permanently or to use the natural resources from the new place to help Earth! No space colonies have been built so far as it comes with many problems, issues, and challenges. But more and more people are discussing and speaking about the idea! Many arguments have been made for and against space colonization, but we will talk about these later.
Humans have been fascinated with the sky for as long as we have records: for example, many of the gods worshipped by ancient civilizations were based on stars, planets, and moons. Despite this, it wasn’t until the invention of the telescope around 500 years ago that people began to have thoughts about what we could find outside of our planet. At the time, German astronomer Johannes Kepler famously wrote to the Italian astronomer Galileo: “Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies.”
A few years later Cyrano de Bergerac was the first person to write fiction about traveling to space in a rocket. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and early 20th century that space fantasies became incredibly popular. Jules Verne’s well known story “From Earth to the Moon” was published in 1865 and a movie adaptation was released in 1902. In the 1950s and 60s, dreams of expanding humanity to other parts of the solar system or universe perhaps reached their climax. Thanks to the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union, people’s imaginations were stimulated and popular culture was heavily influenced. The Russians put the first person, Yuri Gagarin, in space on Apr. 12, 1961, NASA put the first people, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the Moon in July 1969. Over the next 60 years, space stations were launched, rovers landed on Mars, and satellites and probes sent to the edge of our solar system.
What was once exclusively science fiction, seems increasingly possible with these such developments. In 2017 President Trump relaunched America’s missions to the moon. At the moment, China, Russia, and the United States have the ability to send people to space, while India is planning to launch its own programme in the next few years. Other nations also have space programmes sending probes, rovers, satellites, and other devices to outer space. Since 2020, NASA has been working in collaboration with the private company SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, to send astronauts to the international space station. Elon Musk has been one of the biggest proponents of space travel, space colonization, and space tourism. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin have generated similar excitement.
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied by groups of six astronauts since Nov. 2000. In total, 243 astronauts from 19 different countries have spent time living in space; usually for a period of around 6 months. On the old Russian space station, Mir, Russian cosmonauts have spent longer than a year away from our planet. It seems that we are getting closer and closer to colonizing other planets. The most common ideas for space colonization include: settling Earth’s Moon, building on Mars, and constructing free-floating space stations. But, why? Why do we need to colonize space? And should humans colonize space?
The rest of this episode will introduce pro and con arguments over space colonization. I’d like you to listen to the points I make, and then decide for yourself what your opinion is. I would like you to Think in English!
Let’s start with the pro arguments. First, some people argue that humans have a right and a moral duty to save our species from suffering and extinction. And while there are a number of different approaches to doing this, colonizing space is one method of doing so! Using a similar argument, Elon Musk has stated that he thinks “there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary, in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.” Some philosophers, who believe that preserving humanity is the most important thing we can do, suggest that because the chances our species will survive is greatest if we live in many different places, then we should do this as soon as possible! Others believe that colonizing space will increase clean energy on Earth, provide access to the solar system’s resources, and increase knowledge of space and Earth. The benefits of space colonization mean that we need to do it!
Second, it has been argued that space colonization is the next logical step in space exploration and human growth. Societies that are expanding and outwardly-focused tend to be more focused on creating wealth and scientific developments for their citizens instead of punishing their own people. Humanity should not become stagnant and inward looking. We need to keep growing, developing, and expanding. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Space Exploration company Blue Origin, believes that exploring space will make humanity more intelligent. He said, “The solar system can easily support a trillion humans. And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power unlimited for all practical purposes.”
Third, proponents of space travel argue that we should explore and colonize space at the same time as we fix the effects of climate change on Earth. We shouldn’t think about them separately. Perhaps we could move the polluting heavy industries off of our planet, which would help to reduce the effects of climate change. In the distant future, space colonies on different planets and moons could protect Earth, generate clean energy through solar power, and be the home to the most dangerous industries. Moreover, the technological advances required to colonize space will, themselves, benefit humanity. Living on Mars will need new technology to recycle matter and water, produce food from lifeless soil, utilizing renewable energy, creating advanced batteries and materials: all of this will solve some of the problems on our own planet.
On the other hand, there are many people opposed to the idea of space colonization. First, for some humans living in space is pure science fiction. As I just mentioned, we will need incredibly advanced technology to survive on other planets. In fact, this technology is so advanced that it is way beyond any kind of technology we have right now. One plan for terraforming Mars needs the planet to first be warmed to closer to Earth’s average temperature, which will take approximately 100 years. Then Mars will need oxygen so humans and other mammals can breathe, which will take about 100,000 years or more. However, many people believe this plan is not possible at all. Any workable plan would be incredibly expensive. Billionaire Elon Musk explained that the SpaceX Mars colonization project would need one million people to pay $200,000 each just to move to and colonize Mars, which doesn’t include the costs incurred before humans left Earth.
Second, people argue that we must clean up the problems we caused on Earth instead of moving to another planet or moon. If we have the technology to colonize space, then surely we must have the technology, knowledge, and ability to fix the problems we’ve created on Earth. We don’t just have environmental problems on Earth, but also cultural, social, and moral issues. Leaving Earth will not instantly solve these kinds of issues. We will be bringing those problems with us!
Finally, it has been argued that even if we could colonize space, life would be miserable and inhospitable. Let’s think about Mars: it is freezing, lifeless, with an atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s; air pressure is low and the air they have is primarily carbon dioxide. Heat cannot be retained on the surface and dust on the planet is made of silica: which is sharp like glass and causes a lot of damage if breathed and to equipment. There are also higher levels of radiation. Due to the climate and radiation, we would need to deal with lots of new illnesses: cancer, radiation illnesses, reproductive problems, muscle weakness, bone loss, skin burns, heart and lung disease, depression, boredom, an inability to concentrate, high blood pressure, immune disorders, metabolic disorders, visual disorders, balance problems, structural changes in the brain, nausea, dizziness, weakness, cognitive decline, and altered gene function, among others. Even if we could live on another planet, should we really want to?
This episode of Thinking in English has explored the question “Should we colonize space?” On one side of the argument, it has been suggested that we need to leave Earth to save our species, to help solve our problems on our own planet, and because it is the next logical step for humanity. On the other hand, others have argued that it is impossible, even if it is possible life in space would be terrible, and that we should be concentrating on fixing our own problems first.
What do you think? Should humans colonize space? If humans were to colonize space, where do you think would be the best place? Mars? The moon? Somewhere else? And what should we do there? Should we colonize space to live, for industries, or something else? How would Earth change if we did decide to colonize space? If you were given the choice, would you leave Earth?