I was pleasantly surprised recently when I channel-surfed onto a new episode of Xploration Outer Space. Expert science communicator Emily Calandrelli was visiting the Blue Origin private space program facilities.
She got to experience the zero gravity simulation that trains amateur astronauts, and we got another good look at the six-person capsule that carried six people into space and back down to the West Texas desert last December.
The guy – backed by an entire news network – who garnered the most publicity for that trip was TV personality Michael Strahan. Calandrelli focused her report on Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard. She joined space tourist Richard Garriott (son of NASA astronaut Owen) and cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (son of Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr) as the only second-generation space travelers to date.
A stark take away from the program was the crowded quarters the flyers shared. This reminds us of the similar cramped tenures for those who arrive at the space station.
It also emphasizes a key problem facing long-distance space travel. Those boldly going into deep space will be awfully (fully awful) close to each other. And, they will have to take all of their supplies with them – air, food and water sufficient to their missions. There are no corner stores in the Asteroid Belt.
In reality, they will experience an extreme example of what we Earthonauts also face. Spaceship Earth – George Russell’s Planet Eden – circles the center of the Milky Way galaxy at about 492,126 miles per hour. The galaxy as a whole is moving 1.3 million miles per hour while pushing into the ever-expanding universe.
And, as with any space travelers, we carry limited supplies with us. Furthermore, our unirace’s refusal to take action to mitigate climate chaos continues to reduce the availability of these vital supplies.
In April, the Associated Press reported that the World Health Organization concluded that “99 percent of world’s population breathes poor-quality air.”
Jamey Keaten wrote that the WHO called “for more action to reduce fossil-fuel use, which generates pollutants that cause respiratory and blood-flow problems and lead to millions of preventable deaths each year.”
As of May 5, all of Oklahoma west of Highway 81 (the old Chisholm Trail) was experiencing either severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions. Most Americans west of the Mississippi River are aware of the growing drought as their lands drift toward semi-aridity. Water rationing is becoming a way of life for many – those whose leaders recognize the dangers.
One of the consequences of the drought, reported in March by Reuters, is the “Plains drought to curb U.S. wheat harvest, adding to global supply worries.”
The Reuters story also noted “Meanwhile, the winter wheat crop in China, the world’s largest producer of the grain, is expected to be among the worst ever after heavy rainfall delayed planting.”
Factor in the perpetual drought and food shortage in Africa and our spaceship’s food supply appears even more precarious.
A UN climate assessment in February states flatly: “It’s getting harder to produce and harvest food.” The Huffington Post assessment added: “Already, climate change has slowed the overall growth of crop productivity, the report finds. Fisheries are suffering due to ocean warming and acidification, and extreme weather and climate events have exposed millions around the globe to food insecurity. Future warming is forecast to exacerbate existing problems by weakening soil health, disrupting pollination and fueling drought, with already vulnerable populations most at risk.”
Inside Science headlined a study by Justin L. Penn and Curtis Deutsch in late April: “The current rate of ocean warming could bring the greatest extinction of sealife in 250 million years.”
So much for the bounty of the ocean picking up the food supply slack resulting from our droughts.
Air, food and water. All imperiled by unparalleled fossil fuel-fueled global warming. Worse, our short-sighted exploitation also threatens the fabric of our spaceship.
Many of the chemicals we pump into the air attack the ozone layer that protects Earth – and all living things – from ultraviolet radiation. Its depletion could exacerbate the global warming consequences while also threatening people with skin cancers and weakened immune systems.
Since they realize their supplies are limited, we could expect astronauts and cosmonauts to husband their resources appropriately. With no readily available points of reference, we forget that Earth is also a spaceship with limited supplies hurtling through the Cosmos.
In The Notes of Malte Laurides Brigge, Rainer Marie Rilke has his narrator describe one Nikolai Kuzmich, a one-time neighbor. One day, in a closed room, Kuzmich feels a draft on his face and becomes terrified at the thought that he is feeling the passage of time.
Leaping to his feet, he felt “something like a motion” and realized that he was now feeling “the Earth move under his feet,” as Carole King noted in one of the songs for which she provided the lyrics.
Unfortunately, Kuzmich, a sensitive guy, let his new awareness immobilize him. He took to his bed and there remained. We don’t have such luxury. Unless we become responsible Earthonauts, unirace life on Spaceship Earth will become degraded – if it survives.
Our current trajectory will result in tragedy. The Earthly ecosystem which enabled us to flourish will disappear much too fast to allow us to adapt – with only ourselves to blame.
(Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)