I’d like to start by telling you it has been an eventful week for Sleepless Knight. I’d also like to tell you that Justine Ezarik has selected me as her sole companion on the long and lonely 3 year voyage to upload the first YouTube video-log from the surface of Mars, but frankly, there’s even less chance of that than there is of finding a Wayans brothers movie in my DVD collection.
Richard was here all week. We rehearsed and recorded the audio track for an upcoming video, before deciding we might not need it. He then helped me work out all the things we need done by the end of the year, before going home and leaving me to do them.
The Sleepless Knight office is quiet again except for the sound of tapping keys, a clicking mouse, and the slow drip, drip of my brain melting onto the desk. Anyway… as fun as it might be to watch my brain melt on a 300 fps video playback, it’s nothing but tedious to watch in real-time, so rather than tell you there’s nothing going on with the channel or the novel, I’ll just say there’s nothing interesting going on, and instead, talk about a scary statistic.
Now, before you say “OMG! If he’s starting to find statistics scary, then I’m definitely switching the channel.”, I should make a few things clear. Firstly, I’m afraid I do find statistics interesting, but normally only in a fun way. I am a kind of statistics nerd, but I don’t take them seriously. Secondly, the particular statistic I’m going to talk about is very real, very serious, and if, by the end of this blog post, you don’t agree that it’s a scary number… you probably weren’t paying attention.
I don’t want to downplay the rest of the week’s news stories; while the tragic premature death of Amy Winehouse was perhaps inevitable, much less so were those of the many poor Norwegians who lost their lives on Friday. However, the story closest to my own heart this week was the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
As I’m sure most of you must know, the Atlantis touchdown on Thursday morning marked the end of the iconic spacecraft; one which has been in service for most of my life. What you may not know, if you don’t follow the progress of human spaceflight, is that this represents the end of an era in a much larger context than the end of the Orbiter program. For the first time since Alan Shepard (not John Glenn) became the first American in space, in 1961, the Americans no longer have the capability to put astronauts into space. Ironically they must now hitch rides from the Russians, aboard spacecraft whose design pre-dates the Apollo moon landings.
Wait! I hear you cry. You’re doing it again. How does any of this relate to the title of the post?
Well… whilst talking to someone about this, yesterday, I heard those little words that boil my piss, and cause the inner astronaut to burst forth from my chest and nut someone with his visor: “What’s the point of going into space?”
I honestly believe that anyone who asks that question with a straight face must either be a religious zealot who genuinely thinks that the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and the “Shtars are jusht pinholesh in the curtain of night”, or else they are so mind-bogglingly short-sighted that it must take them completely by surprise when the sun goes down each day and everything goes dark. If I was to sit here and list all the benefits of space travel, we would be here for a very long time. Even if I was to list all the benefits we have already seen from human spaceflight (you wouldn’t be reading this without it, for example, since neither the internet nor the microchip would exist), this post would be very long indeed. So let’s cut through all that. We’ll even ignore all that rhetorical bullshit like: What if there were no new frontiers to explore? If you’ve read my about page, you’ll already know that I’m baffled by people who can look up into a clear night sky and not want to know what’s out there, but this is not about my opinions of the universe…
It’s like this: We must go into space. The long-term survival of the human race depends on it. Take your pick of extinction level events: Super-volcano… Coronal mass ejection (no giggling at the back)… Global warming… Asteroid collision. Most of these have happened before, and never mind that without space exploration we would likely be unaware of approaching asteroids or other near earth objects… in the immortal words of Mr Miyagi: “Best defence… no be there!”
Listen… I’m not some apocalypse obsessed doomsayer; I leave that to Roland Emmerich. I don’t buy into this Mayan prophecy, 2012 nonsense either; I’ve survived the end of the world too many times already. But I’m going to leave you, finally, with the statistic I talked about earlier. It isn’t made up. It’s not a product of Hollywood, or of paranoia. It is simply a very large, inescapable, factual number. You can see it on any number of websites. I visited a few while researching the novel. Here is one of my favourites. Wherever you find it, it represents the number of people on this planet, to the nearest few million:
The human race has been around for roughly 200,000 years, give or take. After 199,000 of those years, the population of this planet was still only about 300 million. It reached the landmark level of 1 billion, just 200 years ago. When Alan Shepard made his 15 minute, sub-orbital spaceflight, that number had reached slightly over 3 billion. So that’s almost the whole 200,000 years of human existence to reach 3 billion people…
In the 50 short years since that day… the population of this planet has more than doubled. There are now almost 7 billion people walking around down here. When I checked the population clock, earlier today, I left it ticking while I went to make a cup of tea. Now, alright, I like a strong cuppa, but it still only takes me 5-6 minutes to make. When I sat back down at my desk, there were 1000 more people on this planet than there had been when I went into the kitchen!
How much longer do you think we can stay here?