• Question: Why are people so interested in finding a new planet to live on when we are the cause for the planets deterioation so we will end up destroying that planet as well?!

    Asked by scarlet to Delma, Simon, Julia, Andrew on 5 Dec 2015.
    • Photo: Andrew Winnard

      Andrew Winnard answered on 5 Dec 2015:

      This is a BIG question and one of the most awesome so far! It is also a bit tricky to answer…

      One reason we explore outside our own planet is because we are curious creatures. Also from history we can see that exploring has brought us new things. Such as discovering other countries that brought us things like tea (for that all important cup of tea in a morning!). Exploring how to fly in the air eventually meant we developed big jet planes that I guess you like to use to fly on holiday 🙂

      Space flight is about more than just looking for a new home for us though. Journeying into space helps us understand how planets work and also helps us understand our own planet. As NASAs website says itself: “NASA has contributed in many areas to our understanding of the Earth and to our need for cleaner, greener technologies. From solar arrays and fuel cells to Earth-observing satellites, more efficient aircraft, climate models, and air/water/waste recycling systems, NASA’s contributions to Earth, environment, and green technologies continue today. With a new drive to build an energy-independent nation and reduce our impact on the environment. You can read about how NASA is helping develop clean energy, global monitoring and response, green aviation, sustainable systems and more here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/greenspace/nasas-role.html

      You can also read about specific NASA programmes to help the envionment here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/greenspace/monitoring.html

      So you can see that spaceflight is also about looking back at Earth and learning how are environment is changing and how we might make things better here. This might help us in not destroying our planet yet (lets look on the bright side)!

      Exploring other planets also teaches us how planets and environments are created and develop. This might be useful here too. For example, we can try to figure out why Mars lost much of its atmosphere to try and prevent anything like that happening here. We can also look to see if there are any other forms of life living around near by stars. This is not likely to be little green men, but could be microbial (Delma might tell you more about that) or plant life too.

      Something other than humans could also damage our planet. The dinosaurs did not pollute the atmosphere yet were wiped out by an asteroid. Also, one day a very very long way in the future though, Earth will stop being able to sustain life. This will happen without anything we do. Our sun will one day run of fuel itself and likely go super nova and likely expand doing serious damage to Earth. This is millions (or billions) of years into the future though. The point is that it might be useful to learn how to live on another planet to make sure we have a place to go, should a natural disaster strike our planet too.

    • Photo: Delma Childers

      Delma Childers answered on 7 Dec 2015:

      Really good question! I can say that my interest in finding a new planet is in studying it, and not as a new home for us. And there is excellent work going on at NASA and ESA around an idea called ‘Planetary Protection’. This idea is that we want to preserve the planets we find so we can study them in their natural state, and we don’t want to introduce anything harmful to other planets that would potentially destroy their ecosystems (especially microbial ecosystems 🙂 ) and our chances of studying them. NASA has an entire Office of Planetary Protection dedicated to this aspect of planetary missions:

      So to me, this all means we need to get to work on fixing our own planet, because I don’t see us moving to a new home anytime in the future.