COVID-19: A View From Orbit. Why Life In Self-Isolation Is A Rehearsal Of Space Exploration

COVID-19: A View From Orbit. Why Life In Self-Isolation Is A Rehearsal Of Space Exploration
COVID-19: A View From Orbit. Why Life In Self-Isolation Is A Rehearsal Of Space Exploration

Space exploration – is it the actions of individuals or the path of all mankind?

Denis Sivkov, a specialist in the anthropology of science and technology, believes that the coronavirus pandemic brings us closer to the second answer. After all, life in small closed groups surrounded by a hostile outside world likened us to astronauts, and global efforts in the fight against a pandemic, dividing people physically, as never before united humanity.

Many projects are being phased out and budgets are being cut. It may seem that the study and exploration of space is a secondary occupation: it is more important to save people on Earth now, and Mars can be postponed until later.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of news about moving space launches and changing project deadlines. For example, Roscosmos announced the postponement of the ExoMars joint mission with the European Space Agency to 2022, evacuated its employees from the Kuru Cosmodrome, canceled all international contacts, and even postponed the Cosmonautics Day celebration in the fall.

However, the link between space and the pandemic is not limited to changing project schedules. Space gives us other perspectives on the spread of the virus and allows us to overestimate the situation with the epidemic.

Generally speaking, it is still not entirely clear who exactly goes to space, who is the real subject of space travel.
From the Russian cosmists and Neil Armstrong to Elon Mask, it is believed that the steps of an individual person on the Moon is a leap of all mankind. According to the International Space Treaty, astronauts are “messengers of all mankind.” From another point of view, space exploration is the result of a space race. Werner von Braun, the creator of the Nazi V-2 rockets and the father of the American lunar program, believed that if there had been no competition with the Russians, then the Americans would not have been able to land on the moon.

In international space law, space debris, if it falls on our heads and / or pollutes the environment, is considered to belong to the state that owns it.

Finally, there is a point of view that space exploration is carried out not by heroes-cosmonauts and chief designers, but by ordinary people, for example, factory workers, designers, designers and representatives of other specialties. The writer Margot Lee Shetterley in the book “Hidden Figures. The story of African-American women who helped win the space race revealed that African-American calculators Mary Jackson, Catherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan made a significant contribution to the US lunar program. For a long time, the activities of African-American women in NASA were “below the radar” of all mankind and nation-states. The participation of ordinary people becomes noticeable if we use the local scale. According to Shetterly’s book, they made a good film, Hidden Figures, which can be viewed in quarantine.

On the issue of space exploration, there are three scales of consideration – global (all of humanity), national (individual states) and local (small groups of people and individuals).
They compete with each other and try to bet on their subject. What strengthens them?

Recently, Donald Trump signed a decree on the extraction of resources on the Moon and Mars, in which space is not considered the property of all mankind, which allows the United States to carry out commercial activities on the Moon, Mars and asteroids. The States dispute the Agreement on the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies and the Outer Space Treaty, which has been ratified by the American side. Roscosmos, in response, said that this is an attempt by the United States to “capture other planets.” Trump and his administration are just trying to revive the understanding of space exploration as the activities of sovereign states. Such a statement markedly enhances the national scale of space exploration and weakens the global and local scales.

The coronavirus pandemic shows that a project called Humanity may exist beyond the limited perspective of its own apartment. How to see “all of humanity”? How to believe that such a community really exists? For us, the actions of national states or individuals who selfishly buy buckwheat and toilet paper are obvious. It is the exploration of outer space that gives us a global perspective, which takes the view of all mankind.

American astronauts during the Apollo mission in 1969 first took a picture of the Earth from space. The photo was called Blue Marble – a blue glass ball from a children’s game. Similar images made scientists and ordinary people believe that there are no political borders on Earth and that people are united by common goals.

The ability to see the problems of all mankind, and not individuals, and empathize with them, the American astronaut Ron Garan in the book “You Can’t See Borders From Space” called the orbital point of view. He said that the experience of cooperation between Russians and Americans on the ISS, when both sides were forced to look at reality from the perspective of the other, combined with a look from orbit that generates strong empathy for the Earth and the people who inhabit it, gives in total what Garan and calls the orbital point of view. True, it has a drawback – we stop noticing the details below.

Coronavirus and any other pandemic acts horizontally. It cancels national boundaries and makes human fragility visible. It would seem that we are closed in our apartments, but just like the astronauts, we begin to understand that humanity exists and is united by one misfortune.

Paradoxically, the movement of the virus on the planet affirms the unity of all people and the planetary nature of the Earth. Perhaps right now we are aware that we are all members of the crew of the Earth spaceship.
The situation on our ship is dangerous – at one point the usual practices and rules broke: we can not walk in the park, go out for coffee, hug friends and do many other things. In this situation, space stations, bases on the moon and other planets are outposts of survival in an aggressive environment and isolation …

During a pandemic, humanity can gain a unique experience of being in mass isolation. Ordinary people will invent a whole new way of life. In space exploration, not only technical protocols are important, but also the informal experience of everyday life. Reading the diaries of the astronauts, we see that in their work they invent ways to circumvent the instructions from the Earth. For example, they learn to complete tasks in less time, so that they can devote their hours and minutes to themselves.

For productive work, it is important not only and not so much regulations as informal and flexible strategies for circumventing these rules.

Today, we all in our apartments and houses can feel like astronauts, we learn for a long time to be in a confined space with the same people or with ourselves, which is also not easy.
It seems that the pandemic is not only a driver for the development of remote communication technologies (imagine how many knobs Zoom twists now in search of optimal solutions). Ordinary people in isolation choose different strategies: someone throats uncontrollably in anticipation of the end of quarantine, someone puffed up on recommendations and behaves as if nothing had happened, and someone invents a new way of being for our collective future. For example, the way we use gadgets and applications is now radically changing. In a limited space of apartments, we are looking for a corner for a teleconference, we try to maintain relations at a distance and make sure that affects (for example, jokes) are spread over the network.

The experience of mass isolation and remote communication technology is a kind of space civil science, the results of which can be collected, analyzed and used in future flights to the moon and Mars. Civil science is the attraction of ordinary people without special skills who are interested in science to solve serious research problems. Civilian scientists can, in the form of a game or competition, process signals from space, mark star bodies, or look for possible protein compounds. A significant part of humanity is already practicing in their apartment-simulators the way of behavior on the lunar and Martian bases.

At the same time, space stations and colonist settlements on the Moon and Mars may in the near future become a refuge for terrestrial civilization. If something happens on Earth, astronauts and astronauts will be those who save and continue in space a project called “Humanity.” Today, Elon Musk, who, incidentally, has not yet stopped testing the new Starship interplanetary spacecraft, despite the coronavirus, and other NewSpace advocates are campaigning for space exploration and relocation to other planets of all mankind in order to maintain reasonable life in the universe.

According to physicist David Deutsch in the book “The structure of reality. The Science of Parallel Universes ”, sooner or later (after about 5 billion years), the Sun will first heat up and then go out.

People have a difficult choice: either to radically “terraform” the Earth and even the Solar system, or according to Plan B, find a new place of residence in the Universe.
Moreover, today we know that our immune system was formed as a result of the symbiosis of the body and viruses. Frank Ryan writes about such a symbiosis in the book “Violation”. Globally, the study of the origin and spread of life in the Universe (astrobiology deals with this) can shed light on Earth’s epidemics and pandemics. Material and intellectual investments in astrobiology will help to see terrestrial pandemics on the scale of the solar system or the universe. It may turn out that in this global sense, life is infection, humanity is the result of a cosmic pandemic, and coronavirus is just a small step on the path of evolution of life in the Universe. Unfortunately, such a cosmic scale excludes some important details and ignores the value of an individual human life.

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