As a member of the Boston University chapters of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, it was with great joy that I read the Tuesday, February 19th Editorial, “Asteroid hit should be taken as warning.” While Friday’s meteorite actually hit about 1500 kilometers from Moscow, and not in Moscow itself as stated by the editorial, I otherwise cannot agree more with the piece.
The meteorite fall and the unrelated close approach to Earth of Asteroid 2012 DA14 are only the latest in a string of events in recent months that have brought space exploration to a prominent place in national and international discussions. Last spring saw the space shuttles Discovery and Enterprise arrive at their new homes in Washington, D.C. and New York City to enthusiastic celebrations. A few weeks later, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule became the first spacecraft built and operated by a private company to dock to the International Space Station — delivering food and other supplies — a feat that was repeated in October. On June 6, the planet Venus passed directly between the Earth and the Sun for the last time until 2117. The summer months brought both sad reflection with the deaths of astronauts Alan Poindexter, Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong, and exultation with the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.
In the months since its successful landing, Curiosity has made observations confirming that the Red Planet was once much wetter than it is today, in line with the discoveries of the previous Phoenix, Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner rovers. While it occurred far short of the actual boundary of space contrary to some news accounts, the stratospheric skydive performed in the fall by a private team contributed much useful data that may enable future space travelers to survive emergency scenarios in near-space conditions and at supersonic speeds, and set a new record for the most simultaneous YouTube views of a video livestream. Last week’s State of the Union address saw NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi of the Curiosity mission team as a special guest of the First Lady. And since his launch to the station in December, International Space Station astronaut Chris Hadfield has been cultivating an incredible Internet presence, performing live from space with Ed Robertson of the Bare Naked Ladies and becoming the first to communicate through Tumblr and Reddit from orbit.
All of these events have brought space travel to the public’s attention, and now the meteorite strike has driven home the necessity of the world’s space programs. My fondest hope is that the intersection of these trends will lead to real and lasting progress in space exploration. For too long, visions of apocalypse — zombie, Mayan and otherwise — have dominated our cultural ideas of humanity’s future. It’s time to realize that it is within our power to avert disaster, create a positive future, and reach for the stars.