We as humanity are prided with curiosity and imagination and over the years have engaged in massive exploration projects. Recent discoveries in planets and other terrestrial bodies orbiting earth have largely contributed to the excitement around space exploration in the present age. The engagement of governments in space exploration has definitely marked a great milestone in human discovery ventures. The question today remains, have we violated the ethical codes that we use to safeguard life here on planet earth when it comes to exploring outer space? Ethical practices are a necessity in all spheres of life; space exploration notwithstanding. Margaret R. Mc Lean in her publication “To boldly go: Ethical considerations for space exploration” takes a deeper look at the value of exploring other planets and gives us great insight into the ethical perspective of the practice. The global economy on our planet earth is definitely impacted by these explorations and not in a positive way. Projects to expand human existence in the solar system have been launched with the US setting aside 5.3 billion US dollars for space exploration. Crew exploration vehicles and Launch vehicles have been set to be built and be launched into space by NASA by 2014. Some of the explorations planned for example Asteroid Mining as stated by Robert Lamb in “The Ethics of Planetary Exploration and Colonization” are proof of Exploratory initiatives that do not regard the workforce back at home and the profits that such businesses transacted here on earth carry for dependants like African Nations. These explorations are of national interest as reality and science has come to confirm that collision of earth with asteroids is very imminent. This to some extent does justify the need to explore alternative sources of life for the inhabitants of earth for the sake of continuity for humanity be there a case of extinction of our planet earth. Our security therefore requires that a critical look is taken at other sources through which life can be conserved. This brings me to my last point of argument on whether it is worth the investment to explore space. Yes it is for the sake of having an alternative source or sources for essential resources that may not be available or that may be extinct and for the possible conservation of human kind one day. With all this said, I reiterate the need for great regulation on the methodology to ensure ethics are adhered to in order to safeguard both humanity and the solar system in the process.
As mentioned earlier, space exploration has had a lot to question regarding the ethics behind it. First and foremost, Brother Consolmagno, a U.S. research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, takes a look at asteroid mining specifically for iron. He emphasizes the reality that there are massive resources to be exploited in outer space. According to him, S- class asteroids which are mostly composed of metal pass as close to earth as the moon making it very easy to explore and extract essential minerals from them. If iron is extracted from outer space in massive quantity, this means that the countries or nations that are global suppliers of the same will be in massive loss. Another question lies in the fact that would it be more expensive to mine at home on earth or from outer space? It may cost much more to safely mine and transport these materials back home at the expense of the taxpayer. As Margaret R. Mc Lean in her publication states, “space conservation requires that the solar system be values for its own sake, not o the basis of what it can do for us.” We are to engage in safe exploration and critically conserve outer space as much as we would need to conserve earth. In order to therefore keeping a balance for countries dependant on the distribution of major resources, the same resources should only be explored be there a need for instance in the case where it is proven that the resources are inadequate on earth and we consequently need more resources. Also in the case that we need to explore outer space, measures must be enforced to conserve any hint of life or the general geographical composition. Ethics generally requires that one acts not at the expense of another. “Space conservation insists that extraterrestrial resources ought not to be exploited to benefit the few at the expense of many or the solar system itself” (Lean).
Whether space exploration would be valuable to our economy is a question of contention. From one perspective, this kind of exploration would increase our resources and therefore provide good opportunity for industrial growth as raw material would be available in bulk. This would be a cheaper source of resources considering that no costs to buy the material would be implied. From a different perspective, one would regard the costs behind the construction of spaceships with the capacity to actually work with very minimal manpower as very expensive. The budget set aside by NASA for space exploration leaves one wondering whether the returns would be worth investing in the first place. To also have unmanned technology for space exploration is an aspect that has seemed to provide major alternative option to the hazards that people go through during space exploration (Dator). It is a great threat to their lives and often told have been tales of people who ventured out into space and never saw the light of day again. Unmanned space exploration may prove safer and so much easier to handle. It will allow space scientists to work at a safer range from the great hazards out of space including a lack of a habitable environment from space.
Is space exploration a matter of national interest and security? Matters of national interest highly regard a state’s goals and ambitions whether economic, military or cultural. In terms of a state’s security, in this case the security of all humanity and form of life on earth, the exploration of outer space is needful. “We know of roughly 750 S-class asteroids with a diameter of at least 1 kilometer. Many of these pass as near to the Earth as our own moon — close enough to reach via spacecraft” (Lamb). This is proof that there is imminent danger of collision of these asteroids with earth. It might therefore be needful for state governments to invest in research and exploration in order to decide alternative ways or means by which life can be conserved elsewhere in the case of such a threat. The destruction of earth is a certainty according to scientific theory (Williams). “Life on Earth is more urgently threatened by the destruction of the biosphere and its life sustaining habitat sustaining habitat due environmental catastrophes such as climate change, ocean acidification, disruption of the food chain, bio-warfare, nuclear war, nuclear winter, and myriads of other man-made doomsday prophesies.” Lynda Williams quoted above goes further to critically pinpoint that as much as looking for an out of space solution sounds attractive, this may drive us to actually sideline initiatives to protect our planet earth form other forms of destruction that are manmade. Environmentally human beings are the cause for the depletion of essential elements of life on earth; for example the Ozone 3 layer. Pollution can therefore simply be averted in order to save earth form the destruction that would be caused by a depleted Ozone 3 layer that plays a great role in safeguarding the earth’s atmosphere. From this argument, fact stands out that as much as space interest may be in national interest to safeguard future life, we can avert dangers that may be looming but are of our own doing.
An ethical issue that this paper cannot fail to cover is one around terraforming (Lamb). Robert Lamb speaks of terraforming as a mechanism by which material from a c-class asteroid or Martian moon is spread over Mars pole caps. This causes drastic global warming as poles will absorb more solar radiation than before hence causing them to heat up and release carbon dioxide. This later increases atmospheric pressure which stabilizes liquid water. In result lakes (water bodies) and oxygen that is present leads to the seeding of plant life. “Space sustainability asks that our explorations do no harm and that we leave the moon, mars and space itself no worse and perhaps better than we found them” (Lean). Terraforming as a technique in outer space explorations may violate one of the greatest ethical concerns around space exploration. This technique is very likely to destroy whatever trace of life or ingredients of life already existing on these planets. Several scholars like Plutarch and Nicholas of Cusa argued that life is as it was designed to be and therefore a space exploration is only but a violation of the God designed plan (Arthur and Buran). According to their scholarly contributions the exploration of outer space is unnecessary as it is in conflict of what life has been planned to be. Many philosophers in the 20th century would argue this out according to Arthus and Buran. A lot of talk today revolves around being able to carry on with scientific exploration and discovery but most importantly being ethical in the process.
In conclusion, argument remains that space exploration may be unethical from different perspectives or view points. The practice of science and space explorations requires that a professional acts responsibly and reflects the consequences of their action to the society and to the solar system. Exploration having been marked as necessary and therefore a matter of national interest has to take due considering of life on earth, elements or ingredients of life in outer space must not be destroyed, and neither should the human population incur losses. This exploration ventures must take into consideration the economic impact back at home and who would be phased out of a job in the event that alternative sources for essential raw material were discovered in space. We are a world that yearns for discovery and innovates in order to improve life and its value. Bodies concerned with the guarding of ethical practice such as UNESCO and CNES in France must step up the effort to keep the world compliant with space ethics in all its endeavors in exploration.
Arthur, Dan Mc and Idil Buran. "Agent Centred Restrictions and the Ethics of Space Exploration." Journal of Social Philosophy 35.1 (2004): 148-163.
Dator, James A. Social Foundations of Human Space Exploration. New York: Springer, 2012.
Lamb, Robert. "The Ethics of Planetry Exploration and Colonization." The Ethics of Planetary Exploration. New York, 17 February 2010.
Lean, Margaret R. Mc. To Boldly Go: Ethical Considerations for Space Exploration. Santa Clara, 28 February 2008.
Williams, Lynda. "Irrational Dreams of Space Colonization." Peace Review: Social Justice, The new RAms Race in Outer Space (2010): 1-4.