Opinion guest column

Expanding our horizons through nuclear energy and space exploration

Technologically, we already have the resources and ability to colonize space

I’m an MIT AeroAstro student, and I look at the sky daily. This is relaxing, bringing optimism and motivation: I know that I can predict various phenomena in the universe and put the forces of nature to humanity’s use, to the best of my ability. I like to observe the physical interactions in our surrounding environment, because careful consideration of the processes within it allows one to clearly foresee world states and trajectories and make higher-value decisions in most situations.

Our world has many interesting and observable patterns and tendencies. Among them I consider the evolution of life-forms and their habitats to be of paramount importance, especially in the context of global warming. One essential aspect that apparently eludes the reasoning of many is the physical space that the biosphere exists in: this is the main constraint dictating the resources available for life to persist, evolve, and expand, of which matter composition, thermodynamic conditions, and energy fluctuations are the most important.

When addressing global warming, in recent years, many decision-makers have tended to focus only on “bandaging the Earth.” While the development of new technologies that would allow us to pollute less is definitely economically feasible and beneficial for the planet, instead, politicians often support anti-industrial social movements, allowing these movements to gain momentum and popularity. Think of the anti-nuclear energy movement in Germany, or movements to reduce industrial production or extractive industry activity in the U.S. (hurting businesses and workers). Think of public opinion on space exploration and colonization, that they are too expensive and too far in the realm of “science fiction” to be even remotely feasible. These are naive perspectives not supported by scientific fact and are usually promoted by those with a narrow vision of the world.

Obviously I consider the idea of reducing our industrial activities overall without starting new ones to be absurd. Considering economical aspects, even social tension phenomena would be generated through taking uncalculated decisions. From my perspective, the global development of fission and fusion plants in addition to research in the field of nuclear energy are essential to our sustainable evolution as a highly technological civilization. High energy levels and rates are requirements for traveling throughout the solar system, processing matter, and ultimately either terraforming celestial objects or creating purely antropic environments (artificial bodies). These energy levels and rates are attainable with the strong nuclear force.

At the level of the social conscience, by following lines of thought without making use of reason, we are physically limiting not only our horizons, but that of other living beings. We also have to take care of a biosphere often neglected by most members of the human species. The reality is that we are the highest on the trophic chain and have the most developed conscience. Science gathers knowledge much faster than humanity gains wisdom.

Polluting an entire planet, causing a mass extinction, and not taking serious action towards finding a new home in space don’t seem reasonable. Actions are being taken in many highly developed countries to protect the planet through technological modernization of industry. However, in order to maintain an equilibrium between the development of our different fields of knowledge as a species, we must also take action in other scientific fields including, but not limited to, space exploration, human habitat extension onto the moon and Mars, and genetic engineering for accelerated evolution and disease prevention.

Moreover, without guidance at a high level of society, there is plenty of room after the pandemic for the youth to find escape through libertinage, hedonism, political violence, and many other things. Values in each nation are projected by prominent individuals, so when the dominant classes are not setting reasonable ideals for society, the social organism may end up evolving slowly, chaotically, or even backwards.

If you are a true leader, you must provide a sense of purpose and meaning to others. Otherwise, you are just a demagogue using cheap rhetoric and immoral acts for the purpose of maintaining your position of power.

I prefer societal lines of evolution in which we are looking at and reaching for the sky with the purpose of expanding our habitat and that of Earth’s biosphere while understanding what in the past would have been deemed “secrets of the universe.” This idea is well-documented at a hypothetical level in science fiction books such as those by Issac Asimov or Frank Herbert.

Wasn't it always our dream to fly? If you look into the past, the gods from our mythologies were navigating the seas of the skies and heavens. Whether you’re religious or atheist, looking at the sun, moon, stars, and beyond gives you a sense of power and intimacy with nature itself. This was felt even by our prehistoric ancestors who used the sun’s position relative to stars to calculate agricultural cycles. We should especially feel this intimacy today as humans prepare to occupy the near solar system. Only nations capable of highly organized and scientifically founded planning of their collective efforts will be true leaders at global level: they will become the most influential at the interplanetary level, silently leaving others somewhere behind in history.

Preparation for space exploration is motivating for some individuals, including myself. We are lucky: technologically, we already have the resources and ability to colonize space. We have the technology to transport materials for colonies on the moon and to bring equipment to Mars for a self-sustaining city, with enough people eager to be pioneers and explore these new frontiers. We have the materials, the software and hardware. It is mostly a lack of will that separates us from the vision described by Elon Musk as comparable to the fleet of one thousand ships sent to the shores of Ilion, under the leadership of Agamemnon. If no action is taken to fix the lack of willpower, especially from political leaders, we will likely enter a stagnant phase in our evolution as a civilization. Insufficient resources on an overpopulated planet will lead to economic tension and conflicts.

We are not confined to a single planet. We are the generation of the space age, and we have great chances to make life multiplanetary.

What I and others ask our leaders to do is to support high-caliber projects that will mobilize all of humanity in a collaborative effort. We think of individuals like President John F. Kennedy, who started the most demanding space program on the planet and said clearly that we “choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” Sadly enough, these visionary leaders often have fates similar to that of Prometheus. Regardless, we must look into the future with hope and be determined in using our strength to win.

We already have gifted people across the planet willing to help scatter humanity across the universe, we have much of the technology developed, and we definitely have the economic basis to support this endeavor. It will be just a matter of ratios of various means and forces across the planet whether we achieve a higher level of social conscience and global collaboration. Knowledge and reason are the foundation of our strength.

Codrin Paul Oneci ’21 is a first-year Master of Science student in AeroAstro.