Commercial space travel has suffered a series of setbacks as an unmanned rocket owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded during takeoff during a mission to resupply the International Space Station.
Virgin Galactic more recently lost SpaceShipTwo, an early version of a ship that is planned to take tourists to space, with one test pilot tragically killed in the crash, and another seriously injured.
Sending anything into space, from supplies to human beings, is a monumental task. These events have reminded us of the technical challenges and human cost of space exploration, but former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao recently spoke up in defense of commercial space flight, and why it's important for us, and by us he means you and I, to go into space.
"The Earth changes scale. It goes from being infinite in your mind's eye to now... not only finite, but frankly pretty damn small," game developer and now astronaut Richard Garriott told me in 2011. He described the "overview effect" that happens when you go into space, the ability to see the world as a closed system with finite resources. When he returned he immediately began to cut down on his waste and installed solar panels.
That sense of a shared humanity with everyone on the planet can be spread, but it requires that we got up into space. That we don't just understand in our head that we're all alone together, but in our hearts.
"It would require everyone to have a few orbits," Garriott explained. This process would also require that many people be able to afford to travel to space, and to do so safely. But once you get enough people understanding the overview effect, and understanding the relatively small size and frailty of our planet by going into space, the effects will be extensive, and likely positive.
"More than 1 percent of humanity — it has to be a large amount of people, millions of people into space," he continued. "I can assure you it will change life on Earth."