Read | Should we be exploring space?
by the pupils of City Academy, Bristol and Gemma Kerr
From your computer
It’s no secret that some of us at We The Curious really love space (I’m talking cry-when-rockets-are-launched levels of love). But rockets burn fuel, and that’s no good for the climate.
Climate crisis, cost of living crisis, inequality. These are just some of the challenges we are facing. In a world dealing with many emergencies it’s getting harder and harder to justify space science.
Exploring space can be expensive, and it can contribute to pollution. So is it worth it? Is space science a luxury that Earth can’t afford?
We want to know what the people of Bristol think about this. So we went to City Academy to talk to some young people in Year 9 and 10. This is what they had to say.
Is space science bad for climate change?
The effects of the climate crisis are becoming clearer and clearer. Floods, wildfires, and other extreme weather make the news regularly. Many young people are deeply concerned by the effect that humans are having on our environment.
“Humans are the biggest problem on Earth”
The space industry, like all industries, contributes to the climate crisis. Materials are used in the production of equipment. Rockets release emissions high in the atmosphere. The area around Earth is filling up with space junk. For some people, these things represent an unacceptable cost to the Earth.
image text: “I don't think with my morals I could excuse going to space, I'd feel so guilty I'd feel sick”
Others argue that space science could be the solution to the climate crisis. Humans could fly to other planets, like Mars, leaving the problems of climate change back on Earth. This was a controversial idea at City Academy – with young people arguing for and against it.
“once we fix the errors on the Earth THEN we can go...”
But going to Mars isn’t the only way that space science could help with the climate crisis. Lots of technology developed by the space industry can be used to tackle climate change. Earth-observation satellites are used to gather data about how our planet is doing – covering issues like glacial melting, greenhouse gas monitoring, and deforestation. For some young people, this kind of technology gives hope for a solution to the climate crisis.
Who should get to go into space?
People like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are becoming more visible in the space industry. This reflects an increasing involvement of private companies in the sector. Private companies offer opportunities for innovation - like SpaceX’s reusable rocket. But their involvement also raises concerns about who has access to the sector.
image text: “You need to have a varied group of people studying it or you won't get a varied and accurate view”
For some young people, the perception that only the very wealthy can take part in space science made it
“a classist idea - it's not accessible”
Some young people expressed concern over the regulation of space science. Who has control of the data and knowledge generated by private companies in space? Who decides the direction that space science progresses in?
Elon Musk, in particular, plans to put humans on Mars. For some young people, this aim is misguided. The desire to settle elsewhere in the universe (especially where there could be life) was reminiscent of humanity’s past mistakes.
Whose voice is heard in space science? And whose isn’t? The voices of people from the whole spectrum of class, race, and gender identities should be heard equally. While there is work actively going on in the space sector to reduce inequality, some young people were disappointed with how late it has come.
“It's sad that women don't get to be the first to do these things - first female astronaut instead of first astronaut...”
Why would we even want to go to space?
Despite these very real concerns, there was an obvious curiosity among young people at City Academy.
“Humans want to go into space to explore and see what’s out there.”
‘Big Questions’ often come up in space science – ‘how did the universe begin?’, ‘how big is the universe?’. This makes space a really exciting topic to talk about. At City Academy we explored a wide range of ideas including black holes, exoplanets, and even quantum physics!
Perhaps the most intriguing question, ‘is there alien life?’, continues to be a topic of great debate. Young people at City Academy are pushing this question a step further, asking ‘would it be a good thing if we found alien life?’. For some, meeting aliens would be an exciting concept. We would get to learn about new cultures and perhaps improve ourselves as a species. Others worried about the choices that humanity would make when meeting aliens – deciding it would be better to keep to ourselves.
“If we’re all alone, it’s scary but if we’re not alone, it’s still scary.”
By exploring space we give ourselves the opportunity to learn new things. Physics, chemistry, biology. Engineering, communication, artistic inspiration. A better understanding of humanity and our place in the universe. The list of potential benefits is unknowable.
image text: “We can create things we never thought we could do, as a species we can grow more intelligent”
How should we do space science?
There are so many ways that space science can benefit humanity. But the outcry from young people is that space science must be carried out in line with modern values of sustainability and inclusion. Paying attention to the way that we do science is fundamental to ensuring that science is worth doing.
As young people, like those in City Academy, become adults and join the industry – it seems that these goals will be firmly in mind. By building these goals into how we explore space, we can continue to enjoy the benefits that come from such an inspiring area of science.
We’ve heard what City Academy pupils think but how do their opinions stack up against the rest of Bristol? Do you think we should explore space – get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter to share your thoughts.
We'd like to say a huge thank you to the Y9 & Y10 pupils of City Academy Bristol and to the Association for Science and Discovery Centres for funding this project.