Space exploration continues to deliver benefits to life on Earth, despite criticism of recent private ventures into the beyond by billionaires, according to Canadian astronaut Cmdr. Chris Hadfield.
Scores of public figures, including Prince William and UN Secretary-General António Guterres have criticized Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson for launching space tourism operations and shooting themselves into space. But Hadfield – who flew to space on three separate occasions as an astronaut — said criticism of them and space exploration as a whole ignores the benefits felt on Earth.
“If you say that, you’re just not paying attention to anything more than the transient headlines,” he said. “But actually do the research, find out what’s actually going on and then look at how incredibly integrated your life is and reliant it is on space-based technologies and all of the spin-off technologies that come from from that. We just take them all for granted.”
Hadfield pointed to the recent extreme weather the Island and B.C. have seen, with flooding and snow, as one area space exploration has helped. Satellites are commonly used to predict weather patterns and storms and “save trillions of dollars a year,” Hadfield said, and expanding that technology will be important as climate change disrupts weather patterns.
“I think to say something’s unprecedented, that means you understand all of history, which I’ve never heard anybody who has said that word who does,” he said. “It’s easy to say, I’ve never seen something like this before. But the world’s been here four and a half billion years, which is an inconceivably huge number, so we don’t want to jump to conclusions. Whether I’m optimistic is kind of irrelevant. What matters is, am I informed?”
“We’re building a database understanding of our planet that we’ve never had in the past,” he added. “So it’s going to be extremely helpful, but also necessary in helping us make informed decisions as to how our choices on the surface affect those things. It’s a huge enabler.”
Canadians should be proud of the role the country has had in pushing forward space exploration, Hadfield said. Vancouver Islanders have been particularly involved, with Dr. Chris Willot and his colleagues at the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre in Saanich contributing extensively to the James Webb Space Telescope, while Langford-based Kennametal Inc. provided a drill bit for NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, which is currently drilling into the planet’s core.
The involvement of private businesses, not only in contributing to space exploration, but now leading it, is helping accelerate improvements in the technology, Hadfield said.
“It’s democratizing it down for individual businesses, and even individuals to some degree, to now fly in space. We’re watching a pretty amazing transition of improving the reliability and simplicity of spaceflight.”
All these improvements are making it an exciting time for space fans, he said.
“When I was born, no one had ever flown in space. This has all happened incredibly fast, less than my lifetime,” he said. “It’s happened incredibly quick and it’s accelerating. And what’s really accelerating it is our creativity and our innovation with technology.”