Space exploration doesn't sound like a green issue. But it can be.
Studying biology often leads people to an appreciation of the environment. So does astrophysics. Carl Sagan, in writing about the "pale blue dot" of Earth, as seen from some 4 billion miles away, had this reflection on our home planet, given the knowledge space exploration had provided:
"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
The Mars rovers have provided tantalizing new details about the presence of water on Mars, and the possibility that life may once have flourished there, as it has on Earth. But the images that the little robots have returned remind us, more than anything, how alien that landscape is, and how empty. There is, perhaps, no more profound way to appreciate life on Earth than to understand the desolation and vastness of all that isn't Earth.
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