Chris Hadfield seems to have become the new face for space exploration with his cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity, and I’ve heard him talk a few times, and been really impressed. This morning on Lauren Laverne’s 6music show, he was plugging his new book, a selection of the many thousands of shots he took of the earth whilst on his over 2,000 orbits. He was impressive in talking of how precious our world is, how we all have to live together, and how privileged he is to have spent so long in space, so long whizzing past the earth’s surface in order to get such a deep understanding of it.
But then he said the most important issue facing us is energy shortage, that we need to concentrate on getting a reasonable level of lifestyle for as many people as possible, and that’s when he lost me. Because increase in affluence comes at a price. And that price is the environment. He made no mention of al the energy we waste, and the fact that the biggest threat to this planet is the sheer numbers of our species. He spoke of colonising other planets as a long term goal, that this is what makes us human, but again, that requires a hell of a lot of money and resources diverted to what some people see as a vanity project for the rich. By comparing astronauts with Vikings is fair enough in spirit, but not in actuality. Vikings sailed ships they made out of trees. That is not the same as the huge commercial and scientific industry required to put anyone into space. Viking ships were wind powered, so were completely renewable, and if they got into trouble, they could generally repair their own ships.
I love science, and the notion of space travel, but the priority still needs to be to get things right here before we dream about other planets. Because if we can’t learn to live well here, we’ll only export our bad behaviour to other planets. Hadfield is a fascinating, intelligent advocate of science, doing a lot to encourage kids to be interested in space, and donating the profits from his book to the Red Cross is generous of him, and a cynic would say, also good PR, but he sounded more like a PR person for the military industrial complex. Not good.