Friday, November 27, 2009

Water on the Moon: What Next?

NASA recently ran an experiment in which they crashed a spacecraft into a lunar crater to see if they might detect water there. As it turned out, they did, which should be a paradigm-shifting view of the moon and of our debates about space exploration.

The fact that there is water on the moon changes our view of our own satellite from that of a desolate planetary body to a place with a lot of potential for us as a spacefaring species. Moreover, water is the essence of life as we know it. I haven't really heard any speculation about whether there is some form of life on the moon, but water certainly enhances the chances for us to live there.

There should be even more to it than that, however. In the Overview Effect and other writings, I have proposed that we move beyond seeing the Earth as a living system (The Gaia Hypothesis) and see the universe in the same way. I have, in homage to James Lovelock, called this idea "The Cosma Hypothesis." (cf, The Overview Effect, p. 93 and Living in Space, pp. 8-9) It really isn't all that new, and other authors, such as C.S. Lewis, have argued that space is not a dead vacuum, but rather a place teeming with life and beauty. Much of our recent exploration of the solar system, including Mars, confirms this perspective. More recently, Duane Elgin and Deepak Chopra have published a book on this topic called The Living Universe.

This matters because so many people, in my experience, oppose human evolution into the universe precisely because they see a stark contrast between Earth and space, with the former being friendly to humans and the latter being unfriendly. Of course, we cannot survive in a vacuum, and we would still need technological support to live on the moon or Mars, but let's begin to look beyond our neighborhood and see if we can't think of the universe, as well as the Earth, as our home.

Frank White

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