Cosmic conservation: Why experts argue that parts of the solar system should remain untouched

Cosmic conservation: Why experts argue that parts of the solar system should remain untouched

It’s getting tighter in our atmosphere, the latest highlight being India’s Chandrayaan-3 successfully reaching the surface of the moon in mid-August while Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft spun out of control and crashed on the moon. the week before. Meanwhile, NASA scientists are exploring alien rivers on Mars and Elon Musk continues to dream of building a Martian village.

While space missions have the potential to gather valuable information about the composition of other planets that can help us better understand our place in the universe, they also come with environmental costs. Tens of thousands of pieces of space debris, including discarded pieces of airplanes or debris, are now floating around the solar system. Startups are already looking at the moon and asteroids as potential sites for metal mining. And the failed Russian mission left a large 10 meter crater on the moon.

It’s only a matter of time before people start extracting resources in large quantities from space, and we need to protect part of our solar system as a desert before that happens, says Tony Milligan, Ph.D., a philosopher at King’s College London, who wrote a paper on this subject with Martin Elvis, Ph. .D., an astronomer at Harvard University.

“The idea that, ‘There’s an abundance of solar systems out there, there’s no need to worry about it,’ sounds like an American mistake again,” Milligan told Salon in a video call. “The one that said, ‘Yes, this is a big country, there won’t be any problems.’ But before you know it, there is a huge competition for resources and exponential growth becomes a big problem for everyone.”

“The idea that, ‘There’s plenty of solar system out there, no need to worry about it,’ feels like an American mistake again.”

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines a wilderness as “a place where the Earth and its community of life are undisturbed by man, where man himself is a nonresident visitor.” Indigenous peoples had already existed with the wilderness areas for a thousand years when the act was passed, but the heavy carbon footprint of colonization had greatly reduced the resources. The idea was to keep natural areas protected from pollution – untouched and pristine.

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In Earth’s forests, even small patches of wilderness can serve as important refuges for vulnerable wildlife, allowing the land to recover if neighboring habitats are disturbed. Anyone who has ever stood deep in the woods, where machines are blocked and cell service is non-existent, can tell you that there is value in this raw peace. One can only imagine the value of the tranquility that can be had when visiting an untouched planetary body in our solar system.

“When we come across something like the Blue Canyon [on Earth] … we want to protect it and the environment,” Milligan said. “Treating the moon and Mars as quarries is a limited idea.”

“Treating the moon and Mars as quarries is a limited idea.”

There are already protocols in place to ensure that humans do not damage the Moon or other planets when observing them. At the beginning of the space period in 1958, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was created to set standards that ensure the protection of the planet, and the agency that serves as a kind of guardian of space. In 1967, the leading countries in the space race signed the Outer Space Treaty organized by the United Nations, which provides the basic framework for international space law. As recently as 2020, NASA published the Artemis Accords with seven other nations outlining our responsibility to preserve outer space.

It is important to protect these planets because they can tell us a lot about our planet, says Athena Coustenis, Ph.D., chair of the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection. For example, observing Venus helps us understand the greenhouse effect and can give us information about how to protect the Earth from global warming. However, the natural weather patterns observed on Venus can be disrupted if humans pollute it or begin to emit substances that disrupt its natural composition, which happens a lot on this planet.

“We’re learning how our planet came to be, what it is, but more importantly, what it could be,” Coustenis told Salon in a video call. “If we’re not careful about protecting our scientific capital, our scientific investment, in space, then we’re not learning these things. We can continue to destroy our planet.”

Using patterns in population growth and how people have exploited resources in the past, Elvis and Miller suggest that as much as eight of the asteroid belt is made of iron in the coming centuries and the remaining seven-eighths are protected. If the demand for iron continues to grow at the same rate as it has been since the Industrial Revolution, they calculate that humans could use more than a million times more than all the iron reserves currently on Earth in 400 years.

“Once you get past that, you’re on the fast track to using it all up and because of that you have a big economic problem,” Elvis told Salon in a video call. “It’s like a triwire. It’s a warning.”

For some, landing other planets in our solar system is a question of “when,” not “if.” Anticipating that different stakeholders will rush to make money in the resources of the moon, Mars and beyond – based on the record of man – Elvis says that these conservation questions must be considered in advance to avoid conflict. In fact, only 2.7% of the contiguous US remains protected as designated wilderness today.

“The goal is to be more conservative this time, using what we’ve learned about the depletion of resources on Earth,” Elvis said.

“Population growth and climate change are unintended growth scenarios,” the study said. “Each is straining our available resources, each is a recognized problem that we would like to manage, but efforts to do so at this late stage of development have not been encouraging.”

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