So it’s confirmed. A mere 20 light-years away is a planet orbiting the Red Dwarf star Gliese 581. It is situated within the so-called ‘Goldilocks Zone’ and thus can likely support life as we know it, being the perfect distance from the star so as to be just warm enough. France’s CRNS has developed computer models which suggest a habitable temperature zone with a dense and stable carbon dioxide atmosphere, likely with rain, clouds and vast oceans. This planet may be in an early stage of development, but the discovery is extremely encouraging.
And unfortunately, the number of people who fully comprehend the implications of such a discovery seem to be quite small to me. You don’t have to look very far either; consider how many Americans believe the Theory of Evolution to be utter nonsense, or better still the number of Americans who believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that the Earth is flat. Consider the Obama administration’s decision to cut funding to NASA while straight-facing the ‘don’t worry, corporations can handle this’ response to the incredulous scientific community.
I personally doubt any consortium of private interests will be able to throw the full weight of the State behind a ballsy project like trying to confirm life can exist elsewhere in the universe. It takes charismatic leaders with a lot of coin and resources to put man on the Moon (which we haven’t done since Apollo 17 and have only done 6 times in total. In other words, no one has set foot on another planetary body since the early-1970s, under Nixon, the same guy who authorized the Space Shuttle project, the Clean Air Act and founded the Environmental Protection Agency – just sayin’).
If the Apollo program had been continued to accomplish the third and fourth phases (planned in the mid-1960s), man would have established moon bases in the late 1970s and would have further completed several manned fly-pasts of Venus. Accomplishing these additional tasks (more info on cancelled Apollo missions here, and more info about the Apollo Applications Program can be found here. Imagine how much more we might have accomplished had this been the case. Instead, it seems that we’re retreating away from the vast ocean of space, retreating into our caves, scared by the brilliance of the potential of human achievement. Sometimes I feel we’ve become a species of cowards, afraid to try and commit to the innovative and to understanding the mystery of our existence. If you can’t be amazed and thrilled by the limitless possibilities inherent in staring up at the night sky, what will it take to make you dream?
Have we forgotten how? Or are we just too lazy?