Already, our ability to put satellites in space is helping us to monitor and combat pressing problems on Earth, from forest fires and oil spills to the depletion of aquifers that people depend upon for drinking water [source: Fowler].
But our burgeoning population, rampant greed and thoughtlessness about environmental consequences have already done pretty severe damage to our planet. According to a 2012 survey of research, most scientists estimate that Earth has a carrying capacity of between 8 and 16 billion – and we already have a population of over 7 billion [source: UNEP]. That's led some futurists to argue that we should be preparing to colonize another planet, and soon. Your life -- or those of your descendants -- might depend upon it.
Author's Note: 10 Reasons Why Space Exploration Matters to You
I was a child in the 1960s, a time when many of us believed that someday we would be flying off into the cosmos in search of adventure. I can't say precisely when that dream ended for me, but I remember that back in the mid-1990s, the British folksinger Billy Bragg recorded a song that seemed to capture some of what I felt. In "The Space Race is Over," Bragg sang of staring at the moon as a child, and dreaming that night of walking on the Sea of Tranquility.
But decades later, he stood staring at the same sky with his young son, who asked him, "Why did they ever go?" As Bragg lamented, "The space race is over, and I can't help but feel that we're all just going nowhere." Despite the beauty of his lyrics, I must differ with him respectfully on that last point. I continue to believe that humanity still has a chance to become a truly spacefaring race, and that we must find a way to do so.
- Austen, Ben. "After Earth: Why, Where, How, and When We Might Leave Our Home Planet." Popsci.com. March 16, 2011. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-02/after-earth-why-where-how-and-when-we-might-leave-our-home-planet
- Bragg, Billy. "The Space Race is Over." Metrolyrics.com. 1996. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-space-race-is-over-lyrics-bragg-billy.html
- Broniatowski, D.A. et al. "The Case for Managed International Cooperation in Space Exploration." Mit.edu. 2006. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://web.mit.edu/adamross/www/BRONIATOWSKI_ISU07.pdfhttp://web.mit.edu/adamross/www/BRONIATOWSKI_ISU07.pdf
- Colucci, Lamont. "America Must Retake Lead in Space Exploration." Usnews.com. Dec. 11, 2012. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2012/12/11/america-must-retake-lead-in-space-exploration
- Fowler, Wallace. "Anniversary Shows Us that NASA and Space Exploration are Worth Their Costs." Utexas.edu. July 21, 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.utexas.edu/know/2014/07/21/anniversary-shows-us-that-nasa-and-space-exploration-are-worth-their-costs/
- Government Accountability Office. "Actions Needed to Improve Transparency and Assess Long-Term Affordability of Human Exploration Programs." Gao.gov. May 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663071.pdf
- Independent. "50 years, 50 giant leaps: How Nasa rocked our world." Independent. July 29, 2008. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/50-years-50-giant-leaps-how-nasa-rocked-our-world-879377.html
- Griffin, Michael. "The Real Reasons We Explore Space." Air & Space Magazine. July 2007. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.airspacemag.com/space/the-real-reasons-we-explore-space-18816871/?no-ist
- Kiger, Patrick J. "Innovations Aboard the ISS." Nationalgeographic.com. March 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/live-from-space/articles/innovation-and-the-iss/
- Kramer, Miriam. "Want to Find Alien Life? It Will Take A Lot of Luck." Space.com. May 26, 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.space.com/25999-alien-life-search-tools-luck.html
- Kueter, Jeff and Sheldon, John B. "An Investment Strategy for National Security Space." Heritage Foundation. Feb. 20, 2013. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/02/an-investment-strategy-for-national-security-space
- McKie, Robin. "Sky Mining." Cosmos. Jan. 8, 2013. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://cosmosmagazine.com/features/sky-mining/
- Minter, Adam. "The Asteroid-Mining Race Begins." Bloombergview.com. Sept. 8, 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-09-08/the-asteroid-mining-race-begins
- NASA. "Near Earth Object Program." Nasa.gov. Sept. 15, 2014. (Sept. 15, 2014) http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/neo/target.html
- NASA. "Space Shuttle Program: Spanning 30 Years of Discovery." Nasa.gov. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html
- National Space Society. "Position Paper: Protecting Earth from Cosmic Impacts." Nss.org. February 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.nss.org/legislative/positions/NSS_Position_Paper_Planetary_Defense_2014.pdf
- National Public Radio. "'Space Chronicles': Why Exploring Space Still Matters." Npr.org. Feb. 27, 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/02/27/147351252/space-chronicles-why-exploring-space-still-matters
- Ouellette, Jennifer. "This Moon was Made for Mining (Helium-3)." Discovery News. Feb. 21, 2011. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://news.discovery.com/space/this-moon-was-made-for-mining.htm
- SpaceRef. "Space Exploration: Real Reasons and Acceptable Reasons." Spaceref.com. Jan. 27, 2007. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=23189
- Swanson, Emily. "Alien Poll Finds Half Of Americans Think Extraterrestrial Life Exists." Huffington Post. July 29, 2013. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/alien-poll_n_3473852.html
- UNEP. "One Planet, How Many People? A Review of Earth's Carrying Capacity." Unep.net. June 2012. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://na.unep.net/geas/archive/pdfs/GEAS_Jun_12_Carrying_Capacity.pdf
- Wall, Mike. "December Test Flight Huge for NASA's Next Manned Spacecraft." Space.com. June 19, 2014. (Sept. 14, 2014) http://www.space.com/26291-nasa-orion-capsule-test-flight.html
Scientists released the first ever image of a black hole; this one lurks in the center of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). Learn more at HowStuffWorks.