Image: SpaceX (Falcon Heavy Demo Mission) |CCo or CCo|. via Wikimedia Commons
On February 6, 2018, a triune pillar of fire erupted from the ground in Florida, slicing the pastel blue sky and sending waves of thunder crashing and rolling for kilometres in every direction. Atop this seemingly supernatural apparition rose a magnificent chariot of pure white carrying the hopes and dreams of mankind in the form of… a cherry red sports car and a mannequin in a space suit.
The test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket[i] was a sincerely spectacular sight, and for many it held a spiritual quality, due to the future that its success has brought even closer. This particular launch platform could be the means by which humans establish a permanent presence in orbit, on the moon, and even on other planets within our solar system. Even as the Falcon Heavy has just survived its maiden flight, its successor—the BFR, or Big (ahem) Falcon Rocket—has already been planned to make the colonisation of Mars a feasible reality and not just a science fiction dream.[ii]
The goals of those building these modern behemoths are not a secret. Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, speaking at the International Astronautical Conference in Adelaide last September, asserted ‘The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we are a multi-planet species than if we are not.’[iii]
How does the idea of being a ‘multi-planet species’ fit in with the Christian worldview? There are a number of questions we could ask.
When God gave the instruction in Genesis 1:28 to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’, did he mean for us to stop once we’d filled this planet, or was that more a generalised mandate for expansion? The boundaries of the ‘known world’ have grown many times since those words were first recorded, at a time when they didn’t really know about the Kármán line—the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.[iv] Does the dominion that God grants humanity over the earth extend to other planets? If humanity can reach any place with mere steel and fire, it would seem that place is firmly within the bounds of creation, and presumably not ‘off-limits’ for mankind.
Yet it’s clear that our stewardship and dominion over our present home has some issues. Sending colonists elsewhere might be a prudent action if we can’t be certain that our current home will remain indefinitely inhabitable. Or should the resources involved in extra-planetary exploration be spent fixing up the various environmental, social, and humanitarian messes we already have here, rather than recreating those messes on other planets? Rarely has poor stewardship been improved by increasing the area of responsibility of the steward!
The ultimate problem with humanity is one of the heart, which we should not expect to be remedied on this planet or any other, except by the forgiveness and renewed hearts and minds offered through the blood of Jesus. Expanding our presence to other worlds may be something that relieves some present difficulty while being of relatively little relevance in light of eternity, and thus not something to be opposed on any specific theological grounds.
The present reality is that we know of only one world suitable for sustained human habitation, and it’s the one you are standing on. Beyond our solar system, who knows what mysteries await? In the short-term future, which in astronomical terms must include at least the next several millennia, human survival will necessarily rely on planet Earth. Becoming a multi-planetary species doesn’t run counter to the gospel, but neither does it obviate our responsibility to look after this planet.
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