A recent NPR story about the space shuttle Endeavor’s final launch and the International Space Station included some profound comments from the commander Mark Kelly. Obviously Kelly has been through a traumatic experience as his wife, Representative Giffords from Arizona, recovers from an assassination attempt. Whether because of this ordeal, or in spite of it, Kelly was quoted as saying “it’s sometimes hard to understand all the conflict on such an ‘incredibly beautiful planet.’” He went on to say that “‘we’ve got a very fragile and beautiful place to live. We need to take care of it.”
Although I taught science, and realize what NASA has yielded in terms of technology (including advancements in the realm of solar technology), I’ve never been a huge proponent of the space program. I still fail to see how the budgetary demands of NASA help in terms of sustainable development. As discussed last year, “strong sustainability” does not rely on technology, as opposed to “weak sustainability”, which is more in line with the current path of development. Namely, weak sustainability substitutes technological answers for natural processes. The economic sustainability (cost outweighing benefits) of NASA is debatable. Many of the gains from the space program have benefited us today. Photovoltaic cells and “space age” insulation are two of the numerous advancements that researchers have left us.
On the other hand, the amount of money spent could be put to better uses, i.e. education, health care, and infrastructure improvements. While the knowledge gained about the moon, Mars, and outer space have increased our understanding of the solar system, we as a species struggle to make inroads as far as true sustainable development is concerned. Coming back to Captain Kelly’s words for a moment, we need to take care of the planet. With George Carlin’s “rant” about the planet being fine, he argues it’s the people we need to worry about (click here for the clip, but be forewarned of the typical Carlin language). Are we ready to make a serious change?