Who’s winning the space race?

Exploration of the universe is a dream nurtured by mankind more ardently than any other human venture. There’s something almost preternatural about being able to go beyond the circumferential cage set by the laws of science on Earth’s gravity, going distances requiring mathematical equations to be quantified. It is human nature that we would want to go on such quests for glory and the possibility of conquering even more territories. However, now we are no longer constricted by the earth’s gravity.

The idea of beings, both humans and demons, occupying our skies have been around since the origination of Hinduism and Greek mythology. However, space exploration becoming a plausible phenomenon may have seen its first instigation through Leonardo da Vinci. His drawings depicting models of flight instigated a sense of exploration of the skies. Space exploration became a reality rather than an ancestral dream with the launch of Sputnik I. Launched by the Soviet Union on 4th October, 1957, the satellite started the space race that is still in full vigour. Countless achievements have since been made, though they are fragmented by national boundaries rather than being collective global projects. In 2015, 60 countries had domestic space programs, with the number likely to grow to 80 in 2025. Each country wants to state its claim over every possible extra-terrestrial region they can reach, and astronomical budget allocations are made to maintain lead in the race. The USA spends more than six times the amount China does, with over $20 billion assigned to NASA in 2018.

There are already concerns over boundaries in the space, with countries like the USA and India vying to display their strength in space control. In December, US President Donalf Trump announced the establishment of US Space Command, which has been approved by the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. It would have approximately 1,450 personnel based in a chosen location, either Colorado, Alabama or California, dedicated solely to further explore space. Since then, India successfully tested a ground-based anti-satellite weapon. China’s space programme, directed by the China National Space Administration, has a whole ‘Space City’ dedicated to research and a high probability of being the only country with a permanent presence in space after completion of its space station in 2022 (when the International Space Station is likely to run out of budget).

All of these endeavours may be politically driven in the short term, but these apparent shows of dominance indicate the possible supra-terrestrial conflicts to come. There are already space law programmes being offered in some universities across the world. Equally, there are philosophical and ethical concerns that must be considered when it comes to space exploration. Some are in staunch support of the idea, stating we need it to ascertain human survival. Others oppose the race, saying it is better to leave the ‘beyond’ untouched. Since the start of the space race, there have been more than twenty deaths documented of astronauts in various spaceflight missions, and of Laika, the first living being in space. Although the majority of fatalities were during the exploratory age of space travel, today the participants are still made aware of the risk they are undertaking when boarding any mission, implying that, as in every scientific exploration, there are associated hazards.

Children today see space as an increasingly achievable territory rather than an intangible notion. A very striking observation that defines this post-lunar-landing era is that the last day everyone alive on earth was on earth together was 2nd November, 2000. Since that day, there has always been someone at the International Space Station. NASA has even published an ‘exploration report’ that hopes to ‘chart the course for sustainable human space exploration’ to multiple celestial destinations. Particularly when one considers the use of robotics, space exploration beyond what we know now is becoming more and more achievable. Sending a robot into space is not only cheaper but also addresses any ethical questions about human safety. NASA’s Curiosity rover is currently on Mars and sends back information to scientists on Earth, such as images of two solar eclipses on Mars on the 7th of April this month.

“There is an increasing notion that space exploration may possibly yield an alternate habitat for humanity, a place to translocate our entire being.”

With rising environmental disturbances, there is an increasing notion that space exploration may possibly yield an alternate habitat for humanity, a place to translocate our entire being. Bleak, dusty futures have been portrayed in popular culture, shown in movies like Interstellar and Mad Max, and extra-terrestrial worlds depicted in literary works such as Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and Huxley’s Ape and Essence. Artistic renditions of such worlds are quite in abundance. Despite being fragments of fiction at this point, they ring with astute possibilities: of parallelisms, of beings and worlds so different to ours that our have not yet conceived the possibilities of their existence.

“Should the political lines on this planet define our space endeavours?”

Should the question then why are we not doing this celestial voyage together as humanity? Would more be achieved through collective efforts? Should the political lines on this planet define our space endeavours? Who’s winning the space race? Maybe there is no end to the exploration, as the universe itself is said to be endless, but there also is a theory after a stage we will start finding repetition and patterns in the workings of the realm. That day is unfathomable today, but so too was our current day to Romans.