Space – the new frontier

| December 21, 2017

Life and societies have been shaped by inquisitions into space, shifting our views and indeed our values in an attempt to better understand our world. Tara Djokic from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology discusses the importance of space exploration.

Ancient philosophers and astronomers contemplated our place in the universe hundreds and thousands of years before the first space agencies began to emerge in the mid 20th century. In 1543 AD, Nicolas Copernicus, the father of modern astronomy, devised a model suggesting the sun, not Earth, was the centre of our solar system – formidably opposing Ptolemy’s (~100 BC) ‘geo-centred’ world system. In 1610 AD, Galileo pointed a telescope toward the stars, the first to contrive such an idea, and observed the ‘gas giant’, Jupiter, with four small satellites floating about its orbital plane – these are now known as the Galilean moons. This observation showed that not all celestial bodies orbited the Earth, and provided strong inference for a Copernican world system.

Today, the Hubble telescope sails ~550 kilometres above the Earth peering into deep space, capturing images of a distant past at the edges of the observable universe, 13.4 billion light years from Earth. It is estimated that there are 200 billion galaxies each with 200 billion stars. We live in one of these galaxies, the Milky Way, and our sun represents just one of these stars.

Life and societies have been shaped by these inquisitions, shifting our views and indeed our values immeasurably since the Ptolemaic dynasty, just ~2000 years ago. These endeavours have become opportunities for humanity to move forward as a species and grow intellectually, allowing us to better understand our world, and ultimately shape our goals for an improved future.

The addition of a Space Agency in Australia is effectively another step forward. It will provide countless jobs, for multidisciplinary fields, and is an opportunity to encourage young people to study in fields related to space science and technology – careers that might seem unrealistic in the current job climate. But, careers that are rewarding, meaningful and essential, as modern-day society sinks its teeth deeper and deeper into space exploration and resources.

Already, space agencies from around the world have sent people to the Moon (NASA), rovers to Mars (NASA – four successfully) and landed on a comet (ESA – Rosetta). Voyager 1, launched in 1977, reached the edge of our solar system in 2013 and continues on its long journey through space. SpaceX, driven by the ferocity of Elon Musk and his dedicated team, has successfully engineered reusable rocket systems and plans to send the first of its kind to the ISS in the coming days. It is simply economically and philosophically advantageous for Australia to join these types of endeavours, as space affords a wealth of knowledge and technology that has already shaped this planet and its nations in so many ways.

Finally, humans have always been explorers. Australia is the diverse country it is today for this very reason. Space essentially becomes the next frontier, and here is Australia’s chance to cross that boundary in ways Copernicus and Galileo may have only dreamed.