Big Questions: Spaceflight

In one of my earliest memories, I’m about four years old, at nursery school, sitting on the floor looking up at what must have been a small black and white television sitting on a table. The teachers were all terribly excited, and we little kids were always happy to watch television. But this wasn’t Sesame Street. This was a rocket launch, a rocket to the moon. (I suspect it was Apollo 14.)

I was hooked immediately, and although I wasn’t well-suited to becoming an astronaut, I’ve managed to channel that impulse into science (and of course I finally got to see a rocket launch up close).

So without human spaceflight I probably wouldn’t be who I am, doing what I do.

But does space travel help us answer any of the “Big Questions”? Whither humanity in the long run? Will we stick to our crowded but beautiful planet or eventually spread our metaphorical wings and move on up?

Unfortunately spaceflight nowadays isn’t about the long-term future of humanity, but aerospace contracts, cool pictures, and good PR (except, of course, when something goes wrong). As I’ve said, that PR is certainly important, but it is very hard to know what exactly we’re getting for that considerable investment.

If you’d like to hear — or say — more about this, that’s exactly the question being asked at the latest instalment of Imperial’s “Big Questions” debates — Human Spaceflight: Science or Spectacle? Please come over to Imperial on Thursday night (but register in advance).