Should the International Space Station be abandoned?

Beijing time on November 3, this year, November 2, we ushered in the 20th anniversary of the continuous presence of mankind on the International Space Station. But now the question is asked: Should astronauts hang up their spacesuits and leave space exploration to robots?

At 6.50am GMT on 20 November 1998, the BBC’s Richard Hurrihan crouched behind a rock in the Kazakh steppe, putting his mobile phone by his ear. The snow-covered ground blends with the gray sky. Behind him, a loudspeaker gave off intermittent Russian, but the Russians, who were supposed to be guarding it, were enjoying a celebrating vodka in a nearby cabin.

In the distance, a white Proton carrier rocket stood quietly on the launch pad, barely visible against a monochrome background. Suddenly, with a flash and a crackling roar, it began to rise from the ground.

As the rocket accelerated into the sky and disappeared into the clouds, Richard Hurrihan described the scene live to BBC radio listeners. After all, this is a historic moment – the Zarya functional cargo hold on the Proton launch vehicle was the first component of the International Space Station. But despite Richard Hurrihan’s best efforts to describe it, the launch did not make headlines.

The fact that the BBC sent a junior radio reporter, rather than a senior journalist, to cover the launch is evidence of the media and the public’s views on the matter. At the time, the ISS program had been delayed for several years and was well over budget. The scientific director of the British space agency said the space station was “a burden in orbit” and the British government refused to fund it. Many people are wondering if the International Space Station will be successfully completed.

It turns out that they are all wrong. The International Space Station has an American football field the size of a six-bedroom house, an extraordinary engineering achievement by any measure. To date, the project has cost about $150 billion and is paid for by taxpayers in the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. For 20 years, astronauts have been stationed on the International Space Station.

Expedition 1 entered the International Space Station in November 2000, the first expedition in history to reach the International Space Station. Since then, humans have lived and worked on orbit. According to the latest statistics, 243 astronauts from 19 countries visited the International Space Station, where they conducted about 3,000 scientific experiments.

Should the International Space Station be abandoned?

Still, questions remain about whether the space station is worth spending so much money on and whether it is worth it for people on Earth. With the new pandemic and the threat of climate change shrouding the planet, some are once again questioning the motives for sending humans into space.

“I definitely don’t think the International Space Station is worth 12 figures,” said Martin Rees, a Royal Astronomer and astrophysicist. “

Martin Rees argues that instead of spending public money on the International Space Station, we should invest in robotic space science missions that change the way we think about the universe. At present, many spacecraft are sending back pictures and scientific data from Mars and Jupiter, and two Voyager probes have left the solar system, becoming the first man-made objects to enter interstellar space. In 2014, a spacecraft even successfully landed on a comet 4 kilometers wide, 56 billion kilometers above Earth and traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour.

“If we’re going to ask how much news value (the International Space Station) has proved, we can say that there’s a lot more news from the Hubble telescope and missions to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn than from the space station,” Martin Rees said. I think it’s going to be harder and harder to spend public money on sending people into space in the future. “

Much has changed since the launch of the Sugon functional cargo hold in 1998. Although the International Space Station is almost entirely funded by public funds, the future of human space exploration is not only driven by space agencies, but also by ambitious individuals. Like Elon Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, and Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and founder of Amazon.

NASA’s goal is to get humans back to the moon by 2024, and Elon Musk’s plan is to build settlements on Mars, and he even talks about dying there (not because of an impact, of course). Bezos prefers the idea of a giant rotating colony in space. However, not everyone involved in space exploration agrees with their dream, because it is tantamount to keeping all sorts of worrying dilemmas on Earth.

“The human space industry has fallen,” said Linda Billings, a researcher at the nonprofit National Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and an analyst in space research. Currently with the National Space Council, she was an advocate for manned spaceflight, but has now changed her mind. The title of her latest article is “Should Man Colonize Other Planets?” No, I don’t.

“When I say depravity, it’s fragmentation,” explains Linda Billings. The bottom line, in my opinion, is: What’s the point? “

She argues that the motivation for manned space travel is not science-driven, “and I find that the theoretical basis on which these reasons are based is very insequentificable – an ideological basis that is actually driven by a belief in the values of conquest and development.” “

You might say that without conquest and development, there would be no civilization. Few would doubt the courage of the astronauts, who had ventured into orbit on experimental rockets and landed on the moon. However, Bierings questioned human motives, arguing that we could still explore and use space for science and satellite technology, but that humans should remain on Earth.

“NASA has done a lot of good work on climate change, and our political system and the business community are very grateful, but no one really cares,” linda Billings said. I worry about it every day. “

This touches on the inequality at the heart of human space programmes: who should be sent up there? In addition to astronaut Valentina. Valentina Tereshkova, the first female astronaut to go into space, was a white male and mostly a military test pilot. Today, most astronauts are still pilots, and many are ex-servicemen.

In July 1969, shortly before the Apollo 11 launch, black civil rights protesters from the southern United States gathered at Cape Canaveral to stress that it was unequal to send humans into space at a time when many Americans were living in poverty. Robert Patillo, a U.S. civil rights lawyer and space enthusiast, expects a similar debate in the future.

“By the 1950s, we’re going to see a privately owned space station where people will be able to go on vacation if you have enough income. We may also have a moon-based space station by the end of the century,” Patiro said.

“The question that will arise is: how do we ensure that those beneficiaries pay their fair share on the planet so that we have health care, clean water and education systems?” “This is the basic thing that society has to do to function properly under their control, ” he continued. “

Even if Elon Musk eventually succeeds in reaching Mars, the Martian society is unlikely to be the utopia some dream of. The surface of this planet is a red desert covered with dust… There is no air to breathe, no food to eat, and water is locked in ice.

At an average distance of 225 million kilometers from Earth, any distress from the first settlers would take 24 minutes to reach earth and 24 minutes to get a response. “Humans are not ready to leave Earth, ” linda Billings said. ” “

So, have we gone too far in the dream of colonizing space? Martin Rees believes that as a species that has evolved for the sake of life on Earth, we must accept our limitations. “We shouldn’t see ourselves as the apes of evolution, ” he said. ” “

In 20 years, the International Space Station has become the astronauts’ new home beyond Earth. They showed us how hard it is to live and work in space – confined spaces, processing food for food, drinking recycled sweat and urine, and so on. On the other hand, we also see the challenges and high costs of this life.

Perhaps the space station’s greatest achievement is to give us a better view of the Earth. The International Space Station (ISS) is a very special place for astronauts and ordinary people agency, and the stunning view of space and Earth from the station’s windows has greatly expanded the human imagination. (Any day)