What Are We Doing In Space ?


It was literally teeming with life. It’s said that when Captain Cooke first dropped anchor in the Seychelles, there were so many turtles in the sea, you could walk on them all the way to the shore.

It’s said that when the last rail was laid on the first railroad across the USA, you could travel from coast to coast and there was never a time when you couldn’t see buffalo.

Where do we even start to assess the impact we have had on our planet? Garik Israelian pointed out to me that, ironically, we have produced so much light pollution, that most of us can no longer see the stars from where we live … so maybe we have to go into space to see them!

There are already thousands of pieces of debris whizzing around in orbit around the Earth … the remains of spent rockets, and deceased vehicles, from large lumps of machinery, down to stray nuts and bolts – all travelling at thousands of miles a second, not great if they hit you at 20,000 miles per hour as you venture into space.

But let’s look seriously at the mess we make right here – the pollution from humans … its effect on the Earth.

Buzz Aldrin, two days ago in this room, said that getting to Mars will be good for us … we will learn to conserve and recycle on Mars … it will teach us to be better people. I can’t help asking if it might be better if we learned to conserve and recycle and be better people before we colonise Mars? It’s hardly necessary to point out every detail of the way we have treated our planet … how, in only 200 years, we have driven so many land animals into extinction, and are well on the way to doing the same to the creatures who live in the sea. Those of us who are old enough to have been scuba diving for 30 years observe with dismay how much the seas have been impoverished in our lifetime. How we have stripped the planet of most of its vegetation, the very lungs of our world on which we depend for air. How we have pumped so much pollution into our atmosphere that we can’t tell if we are causing global climate change or not.

Is THIS the kind of behaviour WE’RE GOING TO TAKE INTO SPACE?

Every species of animal currently living on Earth, each a triumph of evolution, logically would seem to have the same rights to a decent life and a decent death, as us humans. But somehow – in the rush to propagate our species, the notion came into our heads that really, somehow, Man was the only species that mattered. So we now calmly justify the expendability of every animal on the planet, in the name of advancing our own progeny. Suppose we find that intelligent life we’re so excited about looking for tomorrow? How will we treat it?

At this moment, billions of animals – sentient creatures – are confined in degrading and ghastly conditions, many bred for nothing but to make the most profit out of food production … Cows, Pigs, Chickens, Turkeys, many of them so hideously genetically manipulated that they cannot support their own weight … animals that live a life of constant pain, only to be subjected to a violent, premature death, their torture bodies heading out in shrink-wrap on to supermarket shelves. Read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, if you want the details.

IS THIS the kind of behaviour WE WILL TAKE INTO SPACE?

At this moment billions of mammals, sentient cognizant creatures, are confined in pitiful conditions, deprived of any sensory experience, tortured in the name of scientific research, medical research, the making of cosmetics, and other lame excuses. I have been working with the Hadwen Trust in the UK, which has already demonstrated that progress in medicine may actually be accelerated by the replacement of ALL animals used in medical research, by eliminating pointless and irrelevant experiments, inconclusive because animals react differently from humans to most drugs anyway … the most tragic demonstration being Thalidomide – a drug passed by animal experimentation as safe for humans, leading to its prescription as a cure for nausea in pregnancy. The result was multiple birth defects, carving a hole in a whole generation of babies.

Is THIS what we’ll take into Space?

At this moment, birds are being bred in tiny boxes, to be released on British moors in a condition in which they basically can’t fly properly, so they can be mown down by armies of men with guns, in the name of sport. At this moment, gangs of men on horseback are lying about what they are doing out in the countryside … claiming that their packs of hungered dogs ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon a fox and tore it limb from limb. Yes, they call fox-hunting – even though it’s now illegal in Britain – a ‘sport’. They claim that torturing a wild animal to death in the name of sport is a ‘human right’ (even though this concept was roundly dismissed in the European Court in 2009).

Is THIS what we’ll take into Space?

At this moment, backed by the governments they have helped to install, farmers whose intensive farming methods have led to the proliferation of disease in livestock, and subsequently to the infection of the wild animals around them, are clamouring for the slaughter of the wild animals whose lives have been blighted by these diseases. The British government has recently announced its determination to cull our native Badgers, in spite of the fact that scientific experiment has proved that culling of Badgers will not even contribute to what they are trying to achieve … the control of bovine TB in cattle.

Is this disregard for the welfare of animals what we will take into Space?

Just supposing we are lucky enough to find animal life out there … is this the way we will treat it?

This is how we treat the other species on the planet. But how do we treat our own kind?

Armstrong and Aldrin planted a worthy plaque on the moon, a photo of which we saw this week … saying … “We come in peace, in the name of all mankind” … and I don’t doubt for a second that this thought was in their hearts and minds. But what did we do, walking through that other door many years ago – the door that the gentle peace-loving pilgrim fathers opened to the other New World? We all but exterminated the indigenous population, the North American Indians, along with the buffalo with which they were interdependent. We enslaved the people of Africa because we thought they were less deserving than us of freedom and dignity. A shameful history.

Slavery was abolished by the efforts of William Wilberforce only a hundred and fifty or so years ago. Yet we all know that human trafficking is still rife. Young labour is imported to all Western countries, kept in conditions of no contact with the outside world. Children are abducted to be used for the pleasure of perverts, in an industry which is spread out across the so-called civilized world. Children are made to work on toxic dumps, seeking out chemicals which will ultimately kill them, and then, worse, the people who keep them enslaved make them endure sexual abuse in return for pickings of the best toxic waste. We fight wars for territory, for political power, we call ourselves peace-keepers yet we use our might to make war in impoverished countries, often protecting regimes of questionable morals. We play God, attempting to change the leadership of countries to suit our own economic needs.

Our record of abuse to animals matched by our record of abuse to our own kind.

So what will we take into Space? All of this?

If we allow large numbers of men to go into space, who is to stop a country building a military base on the Moon? Or on a conveniently hard-to-monitor asteroid? And using it to bring about the next Hiroshima The next act of destruction committed in the name of keeping peace – or spreading what we call democracy Perhaps the next Hiroshima will be New York, or Moscow, or London. Suddenly the conquest of Space takes on a huge heavy overtone.

We all know the story of COPENHAGEN – the story of the agonies of indecision of Oppenheimer and his colleagues, on whether or not to give the secrets of making an Atom Bomb to their governments. We know what the result was. It is too late to take back the nuclear bomb from the politicians of the world. But it may not be too late to look at that door that leads into Space – no – surely not to close it – but at least put some regulation on it … to stop the proliferation of Man’s foul temper, man’s aggressive behaviour out in the hitherto untouched Cosmos.

Is it possible for Scientists, Artists, men of understanding and empathy, to take a moral stand – take hold of the reins of future exploration of Space, to make laws governing the further exploitation of lands outside Earth? To contain the evils we have wrought on our own world – and behave decently out there?

Maybe the door needs to be held just ajar for a time, while we turn our attentions to the millions of people on this planet who are starving, or dying of diseases which are curable, yet they cannot afford the cure. There many who would question whether even one more rocket ought to be fired while there is still one child dying unnecessarily, while there are still people suffering torture because of their beliefs, animals suffering torture for our pleasure.

Is it a lost cause? Must we conclude that Man, in bulk, is indeed unworthy to step off the tiny blue world, which he has all but destroyed in his folly?

I’m sorry if any of this has seemed negative.

I have actually agonized over whether I ought to give this talk at all … nobody loves the pursuit of knowledge more than I do … I love the simple beauty of science … which enriches our lives … just as I love the simple beauty of music which feeds our souls. I was also a boy who dreamed of being a space man … Dan Dare was my hero … a fictional man of honour, courage and moral rectitude, just like the great men we have shared this festival with these magical days … the real-life astronauts of our time. We have heard each one of these men express their determination that the future of Space must be shared by all nations – sitting in my room last night, I didn’t want to be the one to doubt that the Human Race could pull it off.

But there is a huge positive side to all this. To asking this question, at this time. This is an opportunity. This could be a new start for Mankind … and many of the people who can make a difference to the future are in this room. If you – if WE don’t ask this question, and take some action, to ensure that we get the right answer … who will?!

OK – for the last time, I ask the question … if we do open the door wide … can we, as concerned scientists, artists, and human beings, find a way to propagate just the decent, noble parts of our civilization?

Not cruelty, but empathy and compassion.

Not greed – but generosity,

Not Conflict – but Cooperation,

Not War – but Peace, in which all men, all women, all creatures, share the glorious gifts of Nature.

The glorious gift OF LIFE.

For now, in a sense, we are all participants at a new Copenhagen.

Thank you.

Important Notice: © brianmay.com 2011


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