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The Heart Of An Explorer: A Reflection On The Future Exploration Of Mars In Light Of The Lost City Of Z — 6 Comments

  1. The current mindset of abandoning our planet in order for humanity to survive is a denial of our Christian faith. John 3:16 states that “For God so loved the world…” It is our duty to preserve all of God’s creation, especially the Earth, the cradle of our existence. In his reflection on our “Pale Blue Dot” Carl Sagan reminds us of “our responsibility to deal more-kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, our Earth, the only home we’ve ever known.”
    In my planetarium lectures I remind the audience that “God does not create what He cannot love, all of Creation is sacred”. He gave humans a nurturing abode to preserve. In Genesis 1:26 God said: “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.” God has tasked us to be the caretakers of His Creation and specifically our Earth, “the only home we’ve ever known.
    Yes, eventually we will travel into the Cosmos and colonize other worlds. But it is also our duty to do whatever is necessary to preserve our cosmic cradle.

    The Earth Is Worth Saving!

  2. Thanks,Fr.James,for this thought-provoking post. Because I write a first person column on various aspects of space exploration ( and blog on a similar topic) I often find myself having to “defend” the cost of space missions and exploration to people who, Understandably, feel that the money could be spent elsewhere–including taking care of our own home planet, the “pale blue dot” that Carl Sagan so lovingly refers to. And they are right! But I believe that it is about striking that balance and constantly reminding ourselves that we must be respectful and and responsible when we explore–including periodically checking in to ask ourselves why we are doing it.

    As a life long space enthusiast, I believe that we explore because we have no choice. It’s who we are and what we do–we are programmed to reach beyond our shores. Otherwise we would still be sitting on the other side of the world, believing that the world is flat. Perhaps I am naive but I believe that this is as God intended. As Galileo famously said : “I do not feel obligated to believe in a God who endowed us with senses, reason and intellect and has intended us to forgo their use.” We not only gain important scientific knowledge from exploration but I agree with you that, part of our programming to explore, is that spiritual need to understand our cosmic origins and more importantly, whether we are alone in this unfathomably vast Universe.

    Having said all of that, I do feel that we need to be more mindful and measured when it comes to the current excitement and passion about getting to Mars. I cannot help but be intrigued and cautiously supportive of the vision of the Elon Musks and the Mars One missions that are currently leading the way on this front, but honestly, I feel like it is all getting to be a bit trendy. It’s hugely important to explore Mars for sure–as it apparently was a previously very different world which may have hosted “life” of some kind but we have robotic missions, and more to come, that are currently doing an excellent job of that. So -why the big rush to send humans? And, in my opinion, just “because we can” is not good enough. There are profound ethical and moral issues that need to be studied and considered as we undertake this historic human endeavour of leaving our cosmic cradle and I really hope that this is happening at some level—somewhere..

    One last thought ….Considering the prospect of having an opportunity to become a space explorer really does give you an opportunity for personal and spiritual introspection. As we all have heard in the media, the Dutch sponsored Mars One is a one way mission which is open to applicants from all over the world with various backgrounds. Thousands of people, including many young people at the beginning of their lives, are willing to leave it all behind to become the first colonists of the Red Planet. Which tells you a lot about the current state of the human species, including the fact that our inherent pioneering spirit is alive and well. I hadn’t applied at the onset of the program as I assumed that my age (which I won’t disclose here but suffice to say I grew up in the 60’s 🙂 ) would disqualify me as a suitable candidate. But when I read that some of the candidates on the first short list were my age and even older, I reconsidered. I am still surprised that I actually pondered it –seriously–for 2 full days– before deciding against it. That was a revelation ,even to me. I actually thought about it! At this stage of my life, I thought that it was an opportunity to do something really important–something that would make a difference. As a widow, I had no life partner to leave behind and my adult children, I told myself, were raised with families of their own. But the human needs and emotions won out and although my kids were supportive, ( I assured them I would never be selected ) I caught a look on my youngest daughter’s face when I discussed it that said differently. Besides–I want to stick around to see my grandkids grow up-especially my 6 yr. old granddaughter who is showing a budding interest in astronomy. Who knows? Perhaps in 30 years or so–she will go to Mars. For all the right reasons, of course:)

  3. To both Maureen and the Renns, thank you for your thoughts! James and Jean, I can embrace your desire to not give up on our common home. Sometimes I feel that some of the desire to colonize Mars rings with a certain, “We blew it here, so let’s start over again somewhere else.” I whole heartedly agree that we need to be more attentive to caring for our common home. What worries me is that, at least in the United States, there is a deep apathy about care for creation. In short, the Earth is worth fighting for, but who is willing to fight?

    Maureen, I enjoyed your reflection. I often struggle between the practicalities of “better to take care of home instead of going to Mars” and “We’re explores, we MUST go to Mars!” I hope we land on Mars some day and celebrate the accomplishment. However, colonizing Mars seems to be a bit of a reach. Then again, if one never dreams, one never can accomplish that which is presumed impossible. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Thanks, Fr. James, for the excellent article, and approached from a thoughtful and slightly different angle than similar pieces I’ve read by others recently. I will admit to being a hopeless, tragic “Explore and colonize Mars at the earliest possible point and highest priority” space-cadet, an enthusiast of that cause since the age of 6 or 7; even then I felt such an enterprise to be immensely worthy in both a Christian-spiritual and humanistic light. In saying that, I appreciate the more measured and differing insights of the Renns and Maureen here, thank you folks!

    I have to rush off to a uni lecture and then a meeting with my Spiritual Director, but I’ll just finish with the quick observation that right or wrong, & the proper spiritual and scientific path to embracing right now or not? These may be worthy matters to consider, yet still moot. I strongly suspect either the estimable Mr Musk, or the Chinese space agencies, will rush ahead and “just do it” in the next decade or two, leaving us to ponder the deeper implications of said endeavours in their wake! Which will make for a fascinating period to be alive, dreaming, and experiencing – perhaps by proxy – one of the wilder, rockier but most beautiful nearby realms of Creation. 🙂

    • Ben, Thank you for your kind words and welcome to our blog! I always appreciate it when people drop a comment! Your speculation about what other countries might or might not do with a space race to Mars reminds me of the history of the race to the Moon. We cannot avoid the fact that there were deep, cold war motivations behind a lot of the space race.

      That being said, when I was a kid and looked up to the stars and wanted to know what is out there, it wasn’t fueled by politics and war. It was a simple curiosity I have to this day. My hope is that the better part of our human nature will always win out, seeing in the idealist pursuits of space exploration a healthy expression of our desire to discover. Yet, we are fallen creatures and always need to be honest about sinful dispositions. In short, life can be a mess and that mess can impact every aspect of life – Including the desire to explore.

      • Thank you again for the welcome to the blog, Fr. James! “The Catholic Astronomer” has become one of my several online mainstays in keeping abreast of astronomical and space-science matters for a while now, and I finally motivated myself (or was perhaps gifted with the motivation, my Spiritual Director might gently suggest 😉 ) to stop lurking and join up properly. I look forward to dropping by for discussions when a rather crazily busy (but thoroughly fruitful and rewarding) current work, academic and discernment schedule permits me to.

        I agree with you that even our seemingly idealist explorations of new frontiers like Mars can have some some ignoble as well as virtuous motivations, at the personal, corporate or national levels. The metaphorical angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, both whispering advice, or perhaps what St Ignatius would tell us are the Good and Evil spirits at work on both individual humans and countries as a whole. But like you, I have tremendous hope that the better nature of humans to look out at space and the planets will win out, leading to a largely harmonious and peaceful exploration. If we do get another space race, let it be driven by good-natured rivalry between friends, rather than the grimmer metrics of the cold war. I’ll certainly hope, advocate and pray for that gentler option 🙂

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