Atlantis touched down today, as USA Today reported here, marking the end of the Space Shuttle Program as we know it. Worlds As Myth reported last year that the Space Shuttle was going to see its final launch in May: but “the best laid plans…,” as it were. This marks the end of an era, and manned space-flight originating out the United States. Thankfully, other countries are still ferrying folk up to the International Space Station, so space exploration’s not completely dead.
In its stead come a slew of unmanned missions originating out of NASA, and those motivated by the Google Lunar X Prize, as The New York Times reports here. Among NASA’s plans are a trip to an asteroid in 2016, motivated by Obama’s declaration in April of 2010 to study shifting asteroid trajectories in case one’s pointed toward us. This sort of research is greatly important because, hey, mass extinction events have happened in the past, some of them even involving big-ass asteroids. But looks like the threats to life aren’t only from the skies, as this article from Science Magazine indicates.
Turns out methane generation increased some 200-million-years ago due to an elevation in carbon in the atmosphere. This extinction event wiped out more than fifty-percent of oceanic life. Yep, the same thing that we’ve been doing to our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution happened naturally millions of years ago. Imagine if the same event occurred now, compounding the effects of what we’ve done to our ecosystem? I think the technical term is we’d be screwed.
It’s bad enough Stephen Hawking gave us an optimistic time-table of 100 years to get off the planet, but include the proclivity of Mother Nature to be something of a heinous bitch and suddenly a century doesn’t quite seem like enough time. I, for one, think that we should take a sizable portion out of National Defense, which The White House admits has been growing unwieldy for years, and dedicate some of that to space exploration because the USA shouldn’t be behind anyone in anything unless we’re giving it to them sans lube.