As Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump rush to return people to space, we need to make sure nationalism and rivalries don’t mortgage the solar system’s future
THE plan looks ambitious, perhaps overambitious. But then they said that in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced that the US would put a human on the moon by the decade’s end. And the lunar lander that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos hopes will return humans to the moon by 2024 (see “NASA to get an extra $1.6 billion to put the first woman on the moon“) is just one tune in a cacophony of new space exploration initiatives.
New Scientist’s story is entwined with that of space exploration: we launched in November 1956, less than a year before Sputnik 1, the Soviet satellite that kicked off the cold-war space race. Now the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 moon landing – the end product of Kennedy’s ambition – is near. To mark it, we will have a special series of articles on what seems to be a new golden age of solar-system exploration.
That starts this week with Leah Crane’s analysis of the space renaissance (see “Inside the new space race: Who’ll be the first back to the moon?“). Next week, we will focus on Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, as well as previewing cultural events around the moon landing anniversary. Look out too for a special edition of New Scientist: The Collection called The Quest for Space. On sale from 5 June, it brings together the very best of our latest space coverage and the cream of our cold-war archive.
Space matters – not least, as Richard Webb argues, for the perspective it gives us on Earth. But that perspective also sounds alarms. In Leah’s feature, European Space Agency boss Johann-Dietrich Wörner rightly warns of national rivalries endangering the peaceable use of space. And human expansionism and resource hunger bring with them moral perils.
In a paper last month, astrophysicist Martin Elvis and philosopher Tony Mulligan asked: “How much of the solar system should we leave as wilderness?” As we enter a new space age, answers to questions like this become pressing, especially if we share the solar system with other life, for example on Jupiter’s moon Europa (see “A simple experiment could help find alien life on Europa“). Let’s see to it that our sins on Earth are not repeated in the heavens. ❚
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