The Exploration Ethic: Unity in Space?

My heart rate increases, my breath shortens and a tremor of excitement races around my body. I am reading the diaries of great explorers, like Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Captain Robert F. Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton as well as the histories of Cook, Drake, deGama and many others.  Common to all of their life stories is what I call the exploration ethic.  Exploration vessels with the names of Endurance and Discovery clearly emphasize that ethic.  Today, space shuttle names such as Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, and Enterprise are modern icons of that same ethic. As the images here display, the explorer crews of Robert Scott, and the astronaut crew of space shuttle Discovery share a common factor, WE. It is this unity that comprises the heart and soul of the exploration ethic.

Yes, throughout the history of human exploration there has been strong, vital competition; such as the race for both the Arctic and Antarctic. Regardless, journals and personal accounts of these heroic ventures are expressed using the plural pronoun “we.”  In our current space history, certainly the daring and courageous race to the Moon by both the United States and the Soviet Union was both a serious political contest and exploratory achievement.  The WE in this era was slow in materializing, but today we see it actively demonstrated and expressed in the crews of the International Space Station.  Perhaps a more significant indicator is the global celebration of “Yuri’s Night” which honors the flight of the first human into space, Russia’s Yuri Gagarin.

There is now a hint of this ethic coming to bear in future human space exploration programs. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected, as early as this Monday (06282010), to seek “significantly greater international cooperation than ever before in outer space, covering a wide range of civilian and military programs.” You may read the entire article on this subject here. There is a strong emphasis on the military aspects of the desired cooperative, and that is considered by this writer as an undesirable necessity.  I hope that it never becomes the dominant factor either in the negotiations or in the planned joint missions. Although the “we” ethic would certainly be present, the ideal is the ethic associated with the exercise of human and robotic exploration of our solar system and beyond.  Yes the ethic can also apply to a completely multinational robotic exploration, lets say of the moons of Mars, Saturn or Jupiter.  The magic here is the shared costs and the shared credit (glory) from any resultant mission accomplishments and discoveries.  As in the International Space Station, these missions would hoist an international banner and not a flag of any one nation.  This new exploration ethic could very well be a major stimulus for building global peace.

Can we do it?  Well humankind has done it before with great courage and honor; why not now?  We are doing it regularly on our International Space Station.  Will we do it?  Certainly President Obama’s declared initiative is a positive indicator that we will. Certainly our continuing success with the ISS gives strong evidence that we can and that we will. Lastly, in all that I have just written that plural pronoun “we” dominates.  The exploration ethic, in my view lives and thrives.  WE shall explore.


Image: Captain Robert F. Scott and his team in Antarctica.  A fateful ending to an exploration of great promise and courage.

Image: Astronauts in official NASA photograph prior to their launch on shuttle Discovery.

Explore posts in the same categories: Deep Space Explorations, Humankind and Exploration

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One Comment on “The Exploration Ethic: Unity in Space?”

  1. This is an author comment: More action is occurring between NASA and other international space agencies to talk about cooperative efforts for both human and robotic exploration of space. The “WE” exploration ethic is alive and active.

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