[Column] Cosmopolitanism for the Blue Planet

[Column] Cosmopolitanism for the Blue Planet

Hasok Chang

The author is a Professor of History and Philosophy in the Department of Science at the University of Cambridge.

NASA recently renewed lunar exploration. The Apollo program launched in the 1960s under the vision of US President John F. Kennedy to “land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth” ended its mission in 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from the Apollo 11 mission left the human footprints on the surface of the moon and returned home with moon rocks. Considering the level of technology at the time, the Americans were extraordinarily lucky and indeed took a “giant leap for mankind”.

Back in Korea, many children were heartbroken to learn that the myth of a rabbit living on the moon was a fairy tale. Apollo 17, launched in 1972, was the last manned mission to the Moon.

Thanks to the multinational Artemis program, NASA is renewing manned spacecraft expeditions to the Moon for the first time in half a century.

Artemis I, launched on November 16, completed its unmanned mission to fly more than 2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) to and from the moon for nearly 26 days, making its closest flyby to the surface. lunar to test all the processes necessary to disembark a human crew. The Orion capsule returned safely to earth, crashing in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja California. The spacecraft brought home various video and photo recordings and sent some even during its journey. The successful test flight gave a boost to America’s spirit of adventurous exploration.

The capsule took pictures of the lunar surface as it slowly circled the moon. It sent back incredible images of the earth as it approached our home planet. The bluish marble against the background of a vast black and thick void seemed marvelous and fragile. Above all, it was a sight of magnificent beauty. A stunning snapshot captured the rare moment when the earth is flanked by the moon as if they were twins, one large and one small.

Would our planet be so beautiful in the eyes of extraterrestrials? Upon arriving, they would discover an entirely different view of the serene exterior. The planet is home to over 8 billion people who kill, torture, threaten, exploit and shame each other. From a distance, it looks peaceful. But the planet never goes a day without conflict. The ecosystem and environment have lost balance from human carelessness to irreversible ruin.

Many will still remember iconic astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan, who helped bring the mystery of extraterrestrial life to the public and popularized space science. The Cosmos TV documentary series and book series have inspired young people around the world to look and imagine a world beyond earth. Sagan once said, “Look at that point again. It’s here. It is the house. It’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have heard of, every human being who has ever existed, lived their lives,” to remind humanity of its smallness and selfishness. He thought that if we realized that we are this tiny, insignificant species, we could stop fighting and hating each other.

Sagan dreamed of cosmopolitanism, the universe seeking the same goal of co-prosperity rather than self-centered nationalism. Globalism, which may imply a similar meaning, played out differently. The ideal and universal goal has become distorted as cross-border capitalism has developed in a boundless quest for profit. The enterprising idea of ​​running on the world stage was driven by the greed for dominance and resources across the globe.

But the phenomenon is not entirely new. Europeans came to dominate the world after adventurers embarked on sea expeditions to explore other parts of the world. The explorers, however, eventually paved the way for imperialism. Today, bold entrepreneurs are on a journey to dominate the world through multinational corporations. Science and high-tech innovations are employed to fulfill their mission. Advances in ICT have allowed global expansion without extensive travel. Some in the private sector pursue space exploration to find riches.

But space exploration should not serve human greed. It should be used as a means of human meditation and self-reflection. While world powers refrain from excessive competition in polar studies, space expeditions must revive cosmopolitanism in its truest sense. Since the space remains ownerless, the possibility is always alive. We need to restore the cosmopolitan ideals where humans on earth try to maintain their wonderful ecosystem and coexistence. It might be better for people who look further out to travel through space to look back on the blue planet.

Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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