Space culture and advancing the human race

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(HORIZONS)

It’s not just the knowledge of our solar system and the galaxies beyond, but the technical achievements that have evolved as we pushed at the boundaries of the possible

WHEN WE think of outer space, we tend to gloss it over in our minds. We understand it is there and what it is, we tell ourselves, but rarely do we pause to consider the scale, the vastness of what lies behind that short five-letter word.

It’s easy enough to pass by: Only around five hundred humans have ever been to space; it is stupendously expensive to get to space and explore it and it takes years of training to manage survival in space. It’s ‘out there’ — we don’t think of space as being a part of us or our environment and yet it remains something we aspire to — a place of mystery above all others.

All human civilisations and cultures share one universal aspect: They have all looked up at the stars for many reasons. The civilisations we deem ‘advanced’ tend to be those who were proficient in and at the cutting-edge of studying the fields of astronomy. Our planet is an example of a living, breathing spaceship that is orbiting the sun at speeds of 100,000 kilometres per hour — 1,000 times faster than a car driving (legally!) down a city road. On top of that, our solar system is orbiting the centre of the Milky Way galaxy at an average speed of 828,000 kilometres per hour. This means that we are on a constant voyage through the cosmos, the inhospitable vacuum that is outer space. With that in mind, it is quite difficult to imagine how space is not a part of us. We’re all space travellers, after all!

Our fascination with space and its exploration has paid remarkable dividends for human scientific advancement. It’s not just the knowledge of our solar system and the galaxies beyond, but the technical achievements we have evolved as we have pushed at the boundaries of the possible. It’s not that we have managed to propel ourselves away from our planet into the reaches of space, so much as what that effort has taught us about ourselves and the ways in which we can adapt in new ways to face the challenges we face even in our terrestrial lives. For example, we have learned our bodies have a hard time adapting to weightlessness in space, which led astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) to lose bone density. It was studying these reactions that saw pioneering advances in osteoporosis treatments and medication, for the use of those suffering from the condition on Earth.

Another example is that we learned that as a result of Jupiter’s tremendous gravity on its moon, Europa, the moon was able to sustain liquid water under its surface in a location in our solar system where temperatures never rise above -160 degrees Celsius. And if life in our solar system is anything like Earth’s then; where there is water … there is life. By studying the stars and using X-rays and other imaging practices, we learned that there is more to see than what our eyes are capable of. In fact, that same study led to the development of what we know today as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, better known as MRI.

With our investments in space, humanity has built the world that we see today. From the navigational capabilities of GPS through to the instantaneous communications capabilities of the internet, from imaging satellites that help us to plan water resourcing through to advanced composites, we are benefiting from our exploration of those outer reaches surrounding our very own spaceship: Earth.

And so it is that everything we do in space brings benefits back to those of us on Earth: Pretty much every experiment on the ISS will impact our daily lives in some way. As we take each faltering new step out into the unknown, we bring knowledge back. In fact, Nasa’s Human Exploration and Operations motto is ‘Off the Earth, for the Earth’.

Saeed Al Gergawi is a specialist in future technology trends. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@saeed_algergawi

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