Last night I finished reading Carl Sagan‘s book Pale Blue Dot. It’s almost 20 years old now so it’s not exactly the best book to read for up to date details on the subject of astronomy or space travel but I wanted to read it after stumbling across an extract from it a few years ago. In the passage in question, Sagan describes his feeling when looking at a picture of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from the edge of the solar system. I suggest reading it. It’s really quite beautiful.

I couldn’t help feeling slightly depressed once I had finished the book. Of the predicted advancements covered in the book we have achieved very few (the International Space Station being the main exception). We are no closer to visiting asteroids or Mars than in 1994. In fact it could be argued that we’re further away considering the US doesn’t even have the means to put a man into space now that the shuttle has been retired.

What is really shocking about reading the book is how little we’ve come on politically and environmentally. Sagan described how in the future (in terms of 1994) global stability would help us work together as one planet to achieve goals such as settling Mars. 20 years on however and we’re still spending vast amounts of money blowing up people in the middle east instead of funding space programs.

We also still seem set on destroying our clement climate through pollution. Promises made in Kyoto are being broken and politicians continue to ignore the impending doom that awaits us on this path in favour of short term gains in popularity. People complain about wind farms (both on and offshore), tidal power and nuclear power when these are the only hopes we have. In the nearly 20 years since Sagan wrote Pale Blue Dot and discussed the impact we are having on the Earth we’ve only gotten worse.

Sagan describes how we must eventually become space faring to survive as a species. Human colonies on other worlds are insulated against extinctions on Earth. It seems to me though that we are working ourselves into a corner. Governments seem intent on destroying the planet but refuse to fund our only escape route – space exploration.