From overpopulation to asteroids: why humans must look beyond Earth for survival

Saudi astronaut Mishaal Ashemimry tells the Riyadh Philosophy Conference that space exploration is key

Interplanetary exploration was discussed at the Riyadh Philosophy Conference on Thursday. Photo: Riyadh Philosophy Conference
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Humans must look to Mars and other planets to overcome the dangers facing the race, Mishaal Ashemimry, the special adviser to the chief executive of the Saudi Space Commission, has said.

Interplanetary exploration is a must for survival, Ms Ashemimry, who is also an astronaut, told participants at the Riyadh Philosophy Conference on Thursday, addressing issues such as the convergence of science, philosophy, justice and ethics in exploration.

Organised by the kingdom’s Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, people at the three-day conference, which opened on Thursday, will discuss the complexities of space diplomacy.

Ms Ashemimry, who became the first Saudi Arabian female aerospace engineer at the age of 26, and is an expert on matters of experimental and analytical aerodynamics, is a strong advocate of human migration to Mars, which she explains has many similarities with Earth.

“There are natural resources available and the red planet's day is close to Earth's 24 hours,” she said.

The first panel in Riyadh opened with the biggest question on most peoples' minds when discussing space travel: “Why do we need to prepare for interplanetary space travel?”

“It is a must to ensure the human race survives the real dangers we are currently facing and will continue to do so,” said Ms Ashemimry.

She said there were limitless connections between space and the understanding of human existence in the world and beyond, that need to be questioned to evolve as a species in the near and distant future.

Four major reasons for exploration of other planets

The well-spoken and articulate engineer highlighted four major reasons that make a case for humans to explore the option of living on other planets.

Overpopulation was her number one concern, followed by geological and meteorological disasters, and finally and the most fatal — asteroids.

“As of today, there are around 300,000 objects orbiting near Earth. Asteroids are an actual real-time threat,” she said.

However, she did not gloss over the many challenges ahead of the human race in looking at Mars as a new planet to inhabit in the future.

“Mars is 9.3 times smaller than the Earth, and has significantly less gravity than on Earth, in addition to the low existence of oxygen,” she said.

More importantly, both Ms Ashemimry and the audience grappled with the philosophical conundrum of who gets to go to Mars, assuming space travel is successful.

Canadian-American businessman and billionaire Elon Musk kick-started the idea of interplanetary existence back in 2016, when he introduced to the world his SpaceX project, to establish a permanent human presence on Mars.

“We don’t want to be one of those single-planet species; we want to be a multi-planet species,” he said.

Ms Ashemimry's excitement as she detailed the many trials and tribulations ahead of a human move to Mars, did not dampen the attendees' interest in interplanetary travel.

“How do we decide who gets to leave Earth? For one, they need to come from different backgrounds. But is it fair? Probably not. The task won't be an easy one,” she said.

The moderator of the panel, professor of philosophy Nicolas de Warren, likened this task to that of the biblical Noah's Ark, “an ark of humanity”, trying to pick the best of what Earth has to offer for the interplanetary migration.

The older generation among the audience brought to the panel engaged in debate, arguing that Earth has everything we need, supported by religious and philosophical texts, and that we must remain humble in the planet's vast beauty and ability to survive environmental and meteorological disasters.

Ms Ashemimry's response was both pragmatic and hopeful that humans may very well succeed in surviving on many planets because of their intrinsic nature to question and grasp for more knowledge.

“I firmly believe that we need to work on both fronts," she said. "We need to work towards saving planet Earth, and we need to push our boundaries of understanding and knowledge of deep space exploration to actualise interplanetary existence.”

Updated: December 02, 2022, 4:02 AM
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