In the 1970s we had landed on the moon and space seemed to be our Oyster. There was no reason to doubt that we would have lunar colonies by the end of the 20th century. The Space Shuttle, although only an orbiter, seemed like the first step in building true re-usable spacecraft. The planets like Mars and Venus seemed to be so close we could touch them next.
Even though we were in the middle of the cold war and competition with the Soviet Union was tense this (along with the release of Star Wars in 1977) actually fueled much of the advancement. In a race that began with Sputnik in the 1950s, each side was trying to "conquer space" first.
In 1989 the wall in Berlin fell and with it came the fall of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. With this epic event, which is regarded as one of the greatest moves toward peace on the planet, came the decline of our drive to push further into space.
I realize I am basing the entire civilization's ascension or decline on this one metric of space travel, but there are several points to this that I think make it a good indicator.
- The Space Race itself was the catalyst for developing a lot of the technologies we use today.
- It was one of the few items in our history as a species, that united us.
- Space technology may become necessary one day as an escape for the human race
- Space technology may become necessary one day to deflect a NEO (Near Earth Object) or Asteroid
- When you stop looking up and exploring, you drive inward.
- NASA provides the most compelling evidence in the arguments for climate change
As some in power ignore the clear evidence of climate change, we may find ourselves rushing headlong into a world like the one predicted in interstellar. Please take a look at the clip below. If you haven't seen the movie, please watch this whole thing through, especially the part after 1:55.
While one might look up at the International Space Station and say that we ARE in space, consider the scale. If we used the scale of a regular classroom globe the ISS would reside at a point about 3/4 of and inch (1.5 cm) from the surface. Using the same scale the moon would be 14 feet away. By those terms, humans haven't left the planet in over 40 years.